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A brief history of Super Apps and why lite apps are required to make a comeback.
We are almost nearing the end of 2022 and I have a feeling that mobile apps will continue to bloat and occupy all of our mobile phone stores in the coming years. There is no denying that apps have become admiringly interactive, packing in a lot more features that allow us to achieve more things than ever before. Android phones and iPhones have started offering 256GB and 512GB models, and yet they are not enough. These apps keep occupying more space in our lives and our phones. In this post, I will be discussing the rise of super-apps, differences between native and lite/instant apps, and more reasons to adopt the lite apps beyond just saving on storage space. So let’s get cracking.
During the summer holidays when I was taking Japanese language classes, one of the students who have been to Japan started telling me enthusiastically about this app named LINE which is a super app of sorts. It had everything he said and is much more advanced than any of the mobile apps I have seen during those times. LINE-app like China’s WeChat and South Korea’s KakaoTalk is a chat apps that grew into a hub for entertainment, social and day-to-day activities. Imagine YouTube, Spotify, WhatsApp, Instagram, Reddit, Clubhouse, and Uber all combined into a single bundle. It was fascinating.
But there was one downside — the app size. It was a gigantic 100MB and the argument that was used during those days was that you don’t need any other app once you install this enormous app. Like most people, I was sold on the idea as well. Storage was expensive in those days and saving on the number of mobile apps installed was a massive win.
Slowly though times changed and mobile storage and data became cheap. Consumers no longer needed to install these massive apps. They can easily afford to install multiple apps. One for ride-hailing and other for food delivery and another one for the neo-banking wallet. But there are still super apps that exist in different markets that continue to boast a large feature set and command a large chunk of the market. See a snapshot of the list below 👇.
Why they don’t build lite apps
As I mentioned before, there are still companies that are continuing to build super apps for Asian markets predominantly. Companies that have built their businesses by offering super app capabilities have a high risk of losing a critical mass of customers if they decide to go down the lite apps route. This is because a consumer initially installs a super-app for its core offerings like chat, wallet, or ride-hailing capabilities. But since other non-core features live in the same app, a customer becomes an easy target to be lured into trying other product features like investment, loans, courier services, and more.
Interacting with the secondary features soon becomes the main driver for boosting the company’s business performance. Migrating to multiple unbundled lite apps is not only an additional effort but it is also a huge loss for the business because now customers are less likely to give the secondary features a try.
I am primarily an Android user and for me, these are my top 5 storage sponges —
- Brave Browser:3GB —
No lite version available
- Instagram:1.3GB — vs — Lite: 87MB
- AliExpress:1.3GB —
No lite version available
- Dropbox:1.2GB —
No lite version available
- Facebook:1.25GB — vs — Lite: 70MB
Although most of these apps retain my activity data on their servers, they occupy a large chunk of my mobile storage because of the cached data and feature sets that these apps add over time using the mini-app or micro-app functionality.
Mini-apps are fundamentally small megabyte-sized apps that companies can send to their primary apps to integrate additional functionality that wasn’t shipped as part of the original bundle. WeChat and LINE used them to add additional functionalities without forcing the user to update their apps.
Although lite apps are great for saving on mobile storage, they aren’t made for everyone. For example, when consumers go from Facebook’s full-size app to the lite app, they will quickly experience a drop in overall performance and user experience. Here is a quick summary of the pros and cons you can expect from lite apps —
- Savings on phone storage space. The cache is also on the lower side.
- Consumes lesser battery.
- User experience is slow and jittery at times.
- You don’t get to enjoy all of the motion design and transitions.
- Limited feature set and not always the latest feature set.
Outside of the above pros mentioned, I have experienced a gain in terms of my mental health because of the lite apps. Since the overall performance is so poor, my brain is automatically less inclined towards opening the app again and again. For instance, while using Instagram I always see a progress bar at the top which takes almost 5–10 seconds to load. This reduces my craving to open stories or interact with the chat functionality. If mental health is important to you, then switching to lite apps can be given a trial.
Design cue: Lite apps generally have the company's logo over a white base background. This is done to distinguish the lite-app from it's heavier sibling.
Shortcut & Instant Apps
Did you know that on Android you can create a home screen shortcut from the browser app to enjoy an app-like experience without the additional installation? I love these apps that can bring straight to my mobile’s app listings without an APK being installed on my mobile. Web pages like Twitter, Figma, LinkedIn, ADPList, and Google Travel supports this feature. The overall experience is exactly similar to that of lite-apps but just without the additional installation.
Further, some Android apps are bringing the support of Instant Apps. Companies can convert their apps or games to Instant apps using Google SDK support. Instant apps are a great way to engage with consumers without forcing them to install the full app at first.
Instant apps can load only a portion of the app and launching it only takes up temporary storage in a user’s mobile. If the user is happy with the app’s teaser then they go forward to installing the full app.
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