The 5 hottest tech trends we can learn from a super app future
Super apps are the next big shift
The genius of Wayne Gretzky, the world's greatest ice hockey player, was grounded in his foresight. He saw the next play, strategically steps ahead of the competition.
Gretzky said, "skate where the puck is going, not where it has been.”
So where's the puck going?
Growing faster than social network apps
Business Insider Australia reports that the combined user base of the top four chat apps is larger than the combined user base of the top four social networks.
Other distinctions of chat apps include:
- They are not not just chat. The superapps of Asia like Line and WeChat are integrated with modern life;
- Market size. WeChat boasts 768 million daily users while Line has 217 million monthly users;
- Higher retention and usage rates than most mobile apps. Around half of WeChat users spend over 90 minutes on WeChat daily; and
- The majority of users are young, an extremely important demographic for brands, advertisers and publishers.
Anything you can do, I can copy better
But with scale comes monetisation.
Meanwhile, the copycat play from Facebook, which owns WhatsApp and Instagram, continues.
In August 2016, Instagram replicated Snapchat's video stories format. Recently we saw WhatsApp have its own video content version.
They are not innovations. Instead, it is a thumping play by a tech giant which says anything you can do, I can copy better.
All social companies are shifting their resources to make the most of the video boom. The play by WhatsApp to get in the video arena will enhance the platform's stickiness and is another sharp elbow to Snapchat's IPO.
The high engagement of video also increases the monetisation possibilities for WhatsApp.
The Post App Era - usage is down
The ecosystem of apps is important to understand.
The opportunity for mega wealth has lead to a proliferation of apps. With thousands on the market, there is an app for practically everything.
But the app business is heading for a change, because the number of apps used is actually declining.
"At the end of 2016, only 33 percent of survey respondents used six to 10 apps a month, which is down 6.2 percent from a year ago."
Declining usage means that the land grab is on. A grab to monopolise user attention. This scarcity will play out with speedy innovation, expensive failures and an industry shake up.
Can the super app model be replicated in the west?
If social media was Las Vegas, Facebook would be the desert’s neon dominator. Facebook holds most of the cards, and importantly, the most chips.
And the player with the best cards and the most chips usually wins.
But like Macau is a legitimate contender to the gambling mecca that is Las Vegas, Line and WeChat are tech giants from the east that is showing the west how to play.
There is no doubt that WhatsApp and other western tech companies have been eyeing off the chat apps that are dominating in Asia.
What Line and WeChat have achieved is astounding. To call them apps is not adequate. Both have reached a level of lifestyle e-commerce integration that is beyond anything available in the west.
Line and WeChat are the swiss army knife of apps, that do everything for you. They are pimped platforms that combine Google, social, chat, e-commerce, news distribution, ride-hailing, banking, food ordering, donate to charities, find a date, schedule a hair appointment, shopping and more.
Talking about the future of the net, The New York Times says looking at China has become the guide to the future:
"Some of the features they have developed are so amazing that western apps are trying to copy them. And the greatest example of this is WeChat."
Here are five reasons why western tech giants are looking at Asia.
Lesson 1 - Line & WeChat are diversified
Line is a powerhouse in messaging, entertainment and merchandise. Unlike WhatsApp, the company has been able to monetise through a range of products and services. In 2015, Line's stickers accounted for more than a quarter of the company’s $1.1 billion revenue.
WeChat's monetisation is similarly diverse, with income flowing from stickers, games, WeChatPay (transfer money between users) advertising and partnerships with public transport services.
Lesson 2 - Affection and brand creation = fandom
Line has fandom. WhatsApp, Facebook and other large social players do not.
Line has created a culture around its characters. Line’s characters feature through their sticker programme and are merchandised through Line retailers and joint promotions.
Approximately 2 billion stickers are exchanged daily. Harry McCracken from Fast Company explains why this extension of kawaii has been embraced:
"Line’s stickers express emotions that would be difficult to sum up in text tapped out on a smartphone. Because of the Line stars’ vivid personalities, people bond with them in a way that they don’t with emoticons or emoji—or with stickers from other apps that cribbed the feature after it took off on Line, such as Facebook."
Line’s brand affection is a distinct advantage in comparison with other social media operators.
Lesson 3 - Line & WeChat provide lifestyle solutions
WeChat and Line are lifestyle integration platforms.
The reason WeChat is so successful is that it is an integral part of modern Chinese life. It is preferred over email and users can do everything from a video call to ordering a Coke from a vending machine using WeChat.
Reuters reported that WeChat users sent around 46 billion electronic red packets - digital versions of traditional envelopes stuffed with cash - via the Chinese mobile social platform over the Lunar New Year period, the official Xinhua new agency reported on Saturday.
As Facebook and others have moved into stage two of their platform, which is e-commerce, Line is already at stage three – moving into parcel and food delivery services.
Line Man launched in May 2016. In Thailand, Line Man operates as a food delivery service created in partnership with Wongnai, the country’s top restaurant review website. Now customers can have food delivered to their door from over 10,000 restaurants.
Lesson 4 - Line & WeChat deliver great content
Line’s Chief Executive Officer Takeshi Idezawa mission is to become the number one news service for smartphones.
Line TV was launched in February 2015. Some programs attract 3 million viewers.
While Whatapp's commands more users, in content delivery, Line and WeChat do it better.
Jessica Goodfellow from The Drum writes about The Economist’s use of Line. The publisher’s ethos on Line is to explain the world in bitesize messages. The Economist Community Editor Denise Law explains:
“The way I describe Line as a platform is a like a suped up version of Facebook Messenger but you also get to do things like make payments on it, chat to your friends, share things, buy stickers and play games. It’s like a one stop shop for everything you want to do on the internet.”
Goodfellow adds: “That scope has pushed the publisher to post exclusive content on the app that is not on Facebook or Twitter. It’s why the Economist is the first publisher to send voice push alerts on the platform, the first of which featured the sound of the Mekong River as well as an audio clip interview with a Southeast Asia bureau chief talking about Myanmar. Further tests are on the way."
Early statistics on the trial are positive, with a greater click through rate on Line delivered content compared to Facebook or Twitter.
Lesson 5 - Partner with big business
Line and WeChat are business partnership focused.
In Tokyo, Line Friends is the recently opened retail outlet with all the merchandise for friends.
In Line popular markets like Thailand, the Line ID is commonly advertised, overtaking the display of the old-fashioned email.
Among big business that Line has linked to - Star Wars, Disney, KFC, Toyota and Seven Eleven across its games and sticker platform.
Line Pay is aligned with Bangkok’s rail transit Rabbit card. Line Pay has over 1.5 million users.
New products and services to expand the company’s e-commerce reach include Line Points and Line Pay Card.
Starbucks and WeChat recently signed a deal that will let WeChat users in China digitally send Starbucks-branded gifts and products to friends and family and enable in-store payment at the coffee chain's 2,500 Chinese locations with the WeChat Pay mobile wallet.
Putting it all together
Pablo Picasso once remarked that the hallmark of genius is to steal from the best.
The best tech players who are integrating commerce with life are currently Line and WeChat.
This video best describes the future, with Asian tech companies leading the way.
From western tech companies, expect to see stolen ideas, copycat plays and inspiration in the next phase of app evolution.
Be like Wayne Gretzky. Get your skates on and skate where the puck is doing. Prepare for an exciting super app future.
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