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Super Virus vs Super App

Oh, the irony of us combatting a once in a century super virus without the presence of a single superhero.

It appears that COVID-19 has struck fear into the hearts of superheroes or they’re just adhering the call to social distance, so much so that all its screenings have been postponed to next year.

What ought to have been a good year descended into sudden disappointment in the first quarter. Not only were people told to distant themselves but countries around the world were proactively closing their borders.

In-country, states and provinces were isolated as interstate travel was banned.

The sudden cessation of habitual activities was a major pain in the butt as lock-downs became the only clear way of keeping the virus at bay.

With social distancing being the norm for what ought to be a good year, activities that we once took for granted have to be reshaped to fit the new environment. Thank goodness for super apps.

If you are living in Asia, you may have unknowingly used a super app. Chances of it being installed in your phone by default is high especially if the phone is China made.

What is a super app and why are they more prevalent in Chinese branded phones?

Super apps integrate several different apps into one. It incorporates many functions and features, like financial services, e-commerce, goods delivery and even social networking.

Take for instance WeChat, a social networking app, similar to its US-based counterpart, WhatsApp. Only thing is, it isn’t.

While WhatsApp prides itself for features such as instant messaging and VoIP calls, it is solely a social networking app. WeChat, in the meantime, is jam packed with functions and features that even Facebook, the owner of WhatsApp is trying to copy.

Apptopia, an app-analytics firm, revealed that WeChat users spent an average of 432.6 million hours on the app, more than double the average time spent on Instagram. The time spent on the app reveals the public’s dependency of it.

Using just that one app, you could do virtually anything. From networking to payments, to even hailing a ride, all these without the need of switching apps. One could even book a flight from WeChat without having to switch to the airline’s website! (not that it would matter for the next few months).

A super app closer to home and one that needs no introduction is Grab. Widely known in Southeast Asia for the range of services it provides.

Beginning its journey as MyTeksi in Malaysia then crossing the Causeway in 2014, Grab has since grown by leaps and bounds. It shot up the users’ ladder after Uber exited the Malaysian market.

From its mono-use beginnings, Grab has expanded to encompass multiple services -- e-hailing, food delivery, last mile delivery and cashless payment.

In a move to extend its reach, the company has entered into strategic partnerships with some of the industry’s biggest players like Klook in offering tours and activity bookings; Agoda and for accommodation booking; Chubb Insurance Malaysia for insurance; and Kaodim to hire service providers for fixing and cleaning jobs.

Wanting a piece of the action, another well-known brand joined the race – AirAsia Group

The Malaysia-based carrier is no stranger to digitalisation and innovation. In September 2020, it announced that it would be building a super app.

The AirAsia app is no longer just a platform for flight bookings. It has grown to incorporate hotel and activity bookings, e-commerce, financial services via BigPay and insurance via Tune Protect under a single app. More recently it launched AirAsia Digital that leverages on the Group’s digital and physical assets to transform the Group into more than just an airline.

Indeed, while health frontliners wage war against COVID-19 on the health front, super apps are doing so on the economic front.

They are cushioning the economy with more job opportunities, flattening the curve as the gig economy allows for Malaysians to stay at home.

These super apps are creating jobs that we never once thought would come to fruition.

Jobs that give people the opportunity to find a way to earn a second income or even as a primary source of income. Food delivery riders are being hailed as the 21st century heroes as meals ordered via the app are delivered right to your doorstep. Killing two birds with one stone.

With super apps integrating financial services as part of their offerings, it is hard to downplay its role in today’s society.

Although we may not see something as extensive as WeChat in Malaysia, I’m not complaining. Super apps are currently my 2020 super heroes. So long my social media is not being monitored by the government, I’m fine.

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