Geographies in Depth

One app to rule them all: the rise of African super-apps

application technology africa innovation social life planning mobility transport mobile phone commerce communications super apps desktop

Instead of juggling through a multitude of apps, super apps allow citizens to get multiple functions from one app. Image: Unsplash/Muhammadtaha Ibrahim Ma'aji

Conrad Onyango
Writer, Quartz
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  • Super-apps allow citizens to combine applications like pay, commerce, mobility and communication into one platform - instead of juggling multiple apps.
  • With low-end smartphones accounting for 85% of all smartphones shipped into Africa at the start of 2021, super apps are vital for making African online lives less complicated.
  • "Super-apps provide the natural option for saving precious storage and broadband."

Until very recently, planning a wedding or coordinating a sight-seeing outing with family and friends in many African cities required that the organizer juggle mobile apps to make arrangements.

The announcements and logistics would require an app like WhatsApp, fundraising activities might take place on a money platform like M-pesa, while rides to different venues would be arranged through a hailing app like Uber or Bolt.

According to a new report covering the Middle East and Africa, all of these activities are now being combined on African super apps, which conveniently combine pay, commerce, mobility, and communications applications on one platform.

A MasterCard and Economist impact report (pdf) highlights that a burgeoning young, digital-savvy population together with massive investment in fintech and other emerging technologies offers fertile ground for the development of super-apps, apps.

“Africa is home to a young, digitally savvy population with an appetite for new technologies and innovation. This dynamism is evidenced across the region, including through the emergence of super-apps,” said the report.

There are at least five super apps in Africa, with more on the way

The report, “From online bazaar to one-stop-shop: The rise of super-apps in the Middle East and Africa,” shows the continent has at least five super apps shaping up with high prospects for many more in the coming years.

In north Africa, there is Halan, an Egyptian fintech start up that started by offering users buy-now-pay-later financial services and which has since added microfinancing, ride hailing, and grocery delivery services.

Algeria-based Temtem recently launched Temtem ONE, its very own version of a super-app, incorporating e-commerce, transport and delivery. Like Halan, Temtem started out as a ride-hailing app.

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Kenya’s biggest telecommunication company, Safaricom earlier this year launched its M-Pesa super-app, with plans to add more services like ticket booking, deliveries and low-data-consuming mini-apps, in addition to the mobile money services it currently offers. Safaricom users can already shop, via its e-commerce platform, Masoko, as well as play games, access learning materials, apply for job opportunities, and read daily e-newspapers.

Ugandan-based ride-hailing firm, SafeBoda, like its north African peers, also recently expanded into super app territory, while Nigeria’s Gokada, a courier service, has begun allowing its users to send packages, order food, and hail cabs on one platform.

South African-headquartered telecoms provider, MTN Group, is bundling instant messaging with m-commerce transactions carried out via mobile phones, together with entertainment, in its Ayoba super app.

Cheap smartphones on the continent have been a game-changer for apps

According to the report, Africa is following in the footsteps of China to grow the uptake of super apps by leveraging on low-end smartphones.

“In many countries, the advent of cheap smartphones has led populations to leapfrog desktop technology and adopt mobile apps first…super-apps provide the natural option for saving precious storage and broadband,” said the report.

Low-end smartphones, the report said, accounted for 85% of all smartphones shipped into Africa in the first quarter of 2021.

The International Data Corporation (IDC) quarterly Global Mobile Phone Tracker, published in August, shows smartphone shipments into Africa grew 13.2% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2021, to total 22.8 million devices.

The original version of this story was republished with the permission of bird, a story agency under Africa No Filter.

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Related topics:
Geographies in DepthEmerging TechnologiesFourth Industrial Revolution
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