Super Apps, Asia’s new innovation, to change cities, economies


SINGAPORE • The ability to communicate, shop online, order rides, read books, play games, get food delivery and pay for anything within a single, unified smartphone app is Asia’s defining innovation, technology leaders said at Bloomberg’s New Economy Forum in Singapore.

WeChat, Grab and Go-Jek are prime examples of a breed of software called the Super App.

In the US and Europe, such services are offered separately for iPhone and Android users.

That’s not the case in China and South-East Asia, where the apps open the door for big changes to how people live and do business, according to South-East Asia’s two most valuable startups, Grab and Go-Jek.

“There’s so much excitement,” said Anthony Tan, Grab’s co-founder and CEO.

“We see the price of smartphones and data falling, we see the democratisation of technology. We see this world where the rise of millennials and they want everything now and they want it immediately.”

Singapore’s Grab, whose app has been downloaded on 125 million mobile devices, forecasts it will double revenue in 2019.

With more than one billion people using it at least once a month, Tencent Holdings Ltd’s WeChat is the king of Super Apps. Grab and Go-Jek began as ride-hailing platforms, but swiftly evolved into apps offering other services centred around payments. By harnessing the data generated by users of multifunctional apps, these providers can gain more insight into their daily behaviour and deploy that information to offer new products and services. That’s one of the key building blocks for digital assistants and other services that will begin to use artificial intelligence.

Nadiem Makarim (picture), founder of Go-Jek in Indonesia, said the all-in-one apps are becoming key tools for the middle class.

“We want to create this firstin- the-world kind of Super App that encompasses all your daily transactional needs,” Makarim said. Go-Jek, with more than 100 million downloads, is preparing to enter Singapore and Thailand after debuting in Vietnam in June.

He said Super Apps have become integral to big cities, with their dense populations and intense commercial activity.

“As you digitise these movements of humans, goods and tracking transactions, you create a new layer of visibility around how the cities actually operate.”