Uphill battle for South-east Asia's super apps

Challenges include market size, the region's diversity and consumer loyalties

Grab plans to offer by next month hotel bookings, ticket purchasing, video streaming and integrated transport planning services in Singapore. Its existing offerings started with ride hailing and now include food delivery and financial services.
Grab plans to offer by next month hotel bookings, ticket purchasing, video streaming and integrated transport planning services in Singapore. Its existing offerings started with ride hailing and now include food delivery and financial services. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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We do pretty much everything on our smartphones now but that means having to hop-scotch from one app to another, so the moves towards a one-stop shop that opens up several functions in a single click look more appealing by the day.

The way these super apps - as they are called - have taken China by storm hints at how they might thrive here. Take WeChat service, which has around a billion monthly users. At first glance, it is a messaging app that functions much like WhatsApp but once you are in its eco-system, you can make cashless payments in stores, hail a cab, order food and pay your utility bills, among other functions.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2019, with the headline Uphill battle for South-east Asia's super apps. Subscribe