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What’s the next phase of evolution for super apps in the new digital era?

What’s the next phase of evolution for super apps in the new digital era?

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Super apps such as WeChat, Alipay and Meituan have dominated the Asian tech market for almost a decade. The initial allure was the convenience of integrating multiple services including instant messaging and in-app purchases into one single platform. 

However, they have seen a shift in traction within the region as user behaviour changes and the emergence of new technologies such as generative AI. In fact, the year-on-year growth rate of users has revealed a declining pattern in user acquisition.  

Over the past five years, 2018 emerged as a pinnacle of growth, exhibiting the highest average growth rate across the spectrum of super apps, according to Ekimetrics and Statista. With the exception of Meituan in 2021, the growth rates have either experienced a gradual decline or stabilisation. It suggests the super apps are deviating from the previous paradigm of rapid expansion.  

An intriguing case study revolves around Singapore-based Grab, a prominent player in SEA that experienced an impressive growth in 2018 (c. 89%). According to the company's Q4 2023 earnings report, its profit for the quarter was US$11 million compared to a net loss of US$391 million in the prior year period, primarily due to the improvement in group adjusted EBITDA, fair value changes in investments, and lowered share-based compensation expenses.

For 2024, the company expects revenue to reach between US$2.7 bn and US$2.75 bn, lower than LSEG analysts’ consensus of US$2.8 billion.

While established leaders are experiencing lower growth rates, some new joiners such as Air Asia Super App, launched in late 2020, are quickly expanding. Air Asia monthly active users have grown from 3 million to 10 million and registered seven times more transactions from 2021 to 2022, according to

Developing a sustainable business model  

As the market matures, it's becoming evident that the super apps are facing challenges in terms of sustainable monetisation and user retention. 

In fact, super apps have multiple business model merged into a single frontend. Generally, it is not possible for every business model to be profitable, according to Chen Peng, CEO, loyalty programme yuu Rewards Club by technology venture 

He believed these apps need to develop a sustainable business model, “the question is whether the better performing functions in the app can generate enough cashflow to cover the cost of the non-performing functions.” 

With higher interest rate and cost of funding, it is hard for super apps to raise cash on the fundamental business model to be cash generating.”  

On the other hand, engagement metrics suggest that while the average smartphone user in Southeast Asia may have over 100 apps installed, daily usage is concentrated to just a handful, said Nathan Petralia, former managing director, Merkle HK.  

This presents a challenge for super apps looking to capture more screen time, which remains notably lower than time spent on leading social media platforms. 

“The key to longevity for these super apps may lie in their ability to adapt and evolve, potentially pivoting towards high-margin services such as financial services and products, which appear to have a promising revenue growth outlook in the region.” he added. 

Next phase of evolution 

In terms of the next phase of evolution, it's likely that we will see a more focused approach. Having said that, companies may pivot towards specialised apps that excel in specific services rather than trying to be a jack-of-all-trades, said Tony Ng, founder and creative director, DigiSalad.  

“This could potentially lead to better monetisation strategies and improved user experiences. Data analytics and user feedback will be crucial in identifying which services are the most valuable and should be retained or further developed,” he added. 
Statistics have shown varying user engagement levels with super apps, with some services within these platforms being used much more frequently than others, he added. “For instance, while ride-hailing and food delivery services maintain high usage, other added services may not achieve the same level of traction. This usage pattern indicates that not all services bundled into a super app resonate equally with consumers.”  

With world shifting from cash to online payments, the digital banking industry is also experiencing rapid growth, with partnerships being formed between digital banks and super apps, according to Olivier Kuziner, managing partner and general manager, APAC, Ekimetrics.  

This collaboration enables users to access banking services directly within the app ecosystem, he added. “Prominent examples include Alipay and WeChat, which offer basic saving, banking, and investment products. By incorporating digital banking features, super apps are attracting a broader user base as the world shifts towards digital banking services.” 

Meanwhile,'s Peng said generative AI will drive a boom for digital personal assistants. "Apps are design for Human to machine interaction. With the digital assistants boom, businesses need to get ready to develop applications designed for machine to machine interactions," he said.

Join us this coming 26 June for Content360 Hong Kong, a one-day-two-streams extravaganza under the theme of "Content that captivates". Get together with our fellow marketers to learn about AI in content creation, integration of content with commerce and cross-border targeting, and find the recipe for success within the content marketing world!

Related articles:

iPrice Group bags US$10m in funding, aims to become key eCommerce enabler for super apps
Battle of the super apps: Which is the best in Southeast Asia?

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