“There’s an App for that.” was trademarked by Apple in 2009. It was a time when the mobile software market was erupting with revenue and raining cash onto developers, in the same way Vesuvius rained it’s ashes onto Pompeii. Developers were buried alive in profits, and during that time, could afford to take risks, make mistakes, and innovate freely without having to face the consequences of being outranked by the competition… because there wasn’t any.
In early 2009 it was easy to decide on the App you wanted to use. There was only about 10,000 to choose from. To search for food, Urban Spoon was the best for sorting near-by choices and Yelp was the best for looking at reviews. If you wanted to book or track your flight you would use Flights. To track your calories you would use Lose It, and to message your friend you would most likely use AIM. Ahhh, the nostalgia.
Now, in today’s world of more than 2 million Apps, if you’d like to message your friend, it all depends: what country they’re in, what country you’re in, what type of media you’d like to send, whether or not you’re using a VPN, where you’ll be having dinner that night, who will pay for dinner, if your girlfriend will check your messages later, and of course, what kind of emojis and stickers you want to leverage for maximum flirtivity. The choices range from WeChat, Whatsapp, KakaoTalk, Line, Messenger, Snap, Slack, Allo, Messages, Rawr, Kik, Tango, TanTan, Tinder, Tawkers, Voxer, and thousands of others that most people have never heard of.
**The point is… the market is not only saturated, but it’s flooding with competition, copycats, innovators, and niche ideas that are completely diluting the active-user base and making discovery for the new guys nearly impossible.
With so many users engaged in these powerhouse platforms, it leaves startups without a chance. User acquisition is expensive, and the need for community is so vital that retention is next to impossible. So how to be successful? Like they say, if you can’t beat’ em, join ‘em.
There’s been a popular video circulating tech forums from the New York Times, done by Jonah Kessel and Paul Mozur. The video is titled, “How China Is Changing Your Internet” and shows how China is ahead of the curve when considering the future of the internet. The subject primarily focuses on WeChat and how users can perform all sorts of functions while never having to leave the app. Things like 1. wash your corgi, 2. share with friends, 3. pay a vacuum service, 4. chat with friends., 5. order food., 6. order taxi, etc… you get the point. Keep in mind, WeChat’s DNA is a messaging App, but with the industry changing in such a dramatic way, it has morphed itself into something new. Many would call it a platform, some would even call it an operating system.
In many cases WeChat acts as “the new home screen”. After users unlock their phone that’s where they go. Whether it’s conscious or subconscious, WeChat (in China) is where users spend the majority of their time. The user-loop is filled with seamless momentum and dopamine rushes. The addiction is tough to crack.
With WeChat becoming such a vice for users, other companies have been taking notice. For example, in Apple’s recent iOS 10 update, the native messaging App has been decorated with it’s own “Mini-App” store to create a diversified experience with an embedded ecosystem of functionality and services. Facebook’s messaging App has done the same, with their integration of commerce and customer support functionality.
For smaller companies and startups, rather than building a separate App, they are using the business model to their advantage by developing new “Mini-Apps” or “official accounts” on the pre-existing monster platforms like WeChat. As the entire user loop, from acquisition to conversion, can seamlessly take place inside of this messaging App, it becomes a win-win solution, for both the “Super-Apps” and the “Mini-Apps”.
New companies have an easier time being discovered and an infinite community to leverage. They can engage and monetize the users they wish, while at the same time, the “Super-App” benefits from increased user engagement and retention, and in some cases, a revenue share. Everyone sleeps with a smile, and the platform evolves to new heights. Surely, this is future.
WeChat has quietly innovated into this business model over the past two years, and some may even argue it was an accident. Either way, they have been trend setters for companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook, now all trying to play catch-up with the idea. Surely, conversational engagement is easy through a messaging platform, but would this “App-in-an-App” or “Super-App” business model work on other platforms?
For this business model to be viable it requires two parts to the formula, users and an active community. The higher the level of active community members on the existing platform means a larger opportunity for these “Mini-Apps” to engage and convert users through value-added services. The size of the platform is directly correlated to the potential for conversion. To define success, increased user-engagement and conversion is the goal, for both the “Super-App” and the “Mini-App”.
If the equation checks out, it would make sense for large companies struggling with engagement or conversion to adopt this business model. Health Apps like Keep, MyFitnessPal, FitTime, or BabyTree could leverage “Mini-Apps” on their platform to provide personalized health services to enhance conversion for their users. Creative Apps like Meitu, Instagram, Prisma, or Sketch could leverage “Mini-Apps” to provide a wider range of filters, brushes, effects, or add-ons to convert more users on their non-monetizing, user saturated platforms. Even eCommerce Apps like Taobao, JD, Amazon, or Tmall could leverage review services, comparison models, virtual product testing, or try-on features, simply by enabling the integration of “Mini-Apps”.
The possibilities are endless and it’s now become a race for innovation. The days of “There’s an App for that.” are far behind us. The conventional wisdom of developing an App for a service has been debunked. Welcome to the next generation of mobile software. Say hello to “Mini-Apps”.
Editor’s Note: This post is contributed by Sean Konieczny, a tech entrepreneur and extensive traveller who believes that miles traveled is directly correlated to the level of EQ and decision making quality. While in Asia, he settled in Beijing and co-founded a digital health data company to provide precision healthcare services that correspond with user health data. You can reach him at email@example.com.