What Is a Superapp?

Superapps offer enterprises a fresh spin on composable mobile app architecture, leveraging a modular framework to rapidly develop and deploy features and updates while delivering customized experiences.

It’s Friday night. You order some food, split the bill with your roommate, and shop online for the perfect outfit for your dog. It takes three separate applications to accomplish these tasks. Superapps can change this user experience.

According to Gartner, a superapp is “the front end of a platform into which internal developers and third-party providers can publish microapps (or miniprograms)” which users can activate and choose to use.

Superapps serve as a platform or marketplace for microapps built internally or by third-party companies. With a single sign-on experience at the native layer, users don’t need to switch between applications or remember countless passwords. Superapps shift the single-purpose application experience to a multi-purpose app and give users a richer, more seamless way to engage in activities like ordering food, splitting the bill, and sharing clothing ideas in one application.

Beyond the user experience, superapps offer enterprises a composable solution for developing internal employee-facing apps for their distributed (and increasingly remote) workforce, leveraging a modular framework to rapidly develop and deploy features and updates while delivering customized experiences. 

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Types of superapp platforms

Though superapps vary in use, as of now there are two main types of superapp platforms: customer-facing and employee-facing.

Customer-facing superapps

The rise of superapps began in China with the customer-facing app WeChat by multinational technology and entertainment conglomerate Tencent. 

Used by over 1.2 billion monthly active users, WeChat allows users to chat with friends, send money to family, book a doctor appointment, buy movie tickets, and more. In 2020, WeChat generated $240 billion from transactions done through microapps.

Superapps can now be found in many countries around the world: from Paytm and TataNeu in India to LINE in Japan and South Korea. In the United States, Meta (Facebook) and other social networks have adopted the superapp model. For example, Facebook users can chat, play games, and sell items all in one space.

It should be noted, the U.S. is slow to fully adopt the customer-facing superapp model due to app store regulations that ban developers from hosting app stores within their apps (arguably the very structure of a superapp). However, employee-facing superapps are being adopted as a way to give employees a comprehensive and unique experience. 

Employee-facing superapps

Internal-facing superapps have become more common with enterprises wanting to engage with employees.

Me@Walmart serves as a prime example of a business to employee (B2E) superapp platform. Employees can get onboarded, check their schedule, request time off, access their benefits, and more. With larger distributed teams in enterprises like Walmart, superapps can provide tailored experiences for each employee depending on their role and team.

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B2E superapps can be the all-in-one solution for communicating, educating, and maintaining relationships with employees.

Superapp Platform Development

Superapps have led the way for composability in app development. It is important to understand the structures of both the superapp and the microapp to know the benefits of each.

As previously mentioned, developing superapp platforms unlocks the benefit of offering customers a seamless experience across multiple microapps. Here are some tips on how to build a super app for businesses looking to develop this type of application:

Choose an app structure

Superapps can be developed as native apps, cross-platform (hybrid) apps, or web apps. Each approach has its own benefits and limitations, and should be fully thought through before beginning production. 

Cross-platform app development is the most flexible and assured way to meet your customers on any device. It saves development time and cost by creating one codebase for both iOS and Android devices, and you can use your existing web developer talent to get the work done. If you’re building your app from the ground up, consider using Capacitor, an open source tool for building native iOS and Android apps using JavaScript.

Because of the composability of microapps, it is assumed that they are also being developed as hybrid or web apps. 

This ebook details the differences between native and mobile app development.

Determine the microapp offerings in the superapp

Developing a superapp platform that customers will want to use requires understanding which features to include in the app. Here are a few questions to consider when deciding which microapps to include:

  • What features would your customers most use or enjoy?
  • Will the microapp be built in-house or by a third party?
  • How are you securing your app using proper authentication, identity management, and secure local storage?

Answering these questions before you begin your development project will ensure all features are considered and help determine how those features will be integrated securely. 

Make your app modular

Microapps give superapps their desired flexibility. Rather than building the superapp in a monolithic architecture, which requires a synchronized build and deployment effort, inserting microapps into your architecture breaks your app into smaller pieces for more independent development.

If you’re building your superapp using the web or Capacitor, Stencil is a great tool that gives you the ability to break up your frontend into web components or micro frontends. With this compiler, you’re able to integrate the microapps into the micro frontends. Whether the microapps are created by third-party developers or in-house, the development process of one app doesn’t depend on the development of another app. All work and update independently.

This is the process of breaking up your hybrid or web application into micro frontends to integrate your microapps into the platform. But what if you’re building your superapp natively? Can you follow this same process for native apps? No, but there’s another way.

Ionic Portals for native mobile superapps

So far, the entire infrastructure mentioned in this article has been designed with web developers in mind. Both the superapp platform and the embedded microapps are assumed to be built using web technology. But what about native mobile superapps? Can microapps be embedded in them? Yes, with Ionic Portals.

Ionic Portals breaks up the frontend of a native app into micro frontends, then integrates web experiences (like microapps) into the native app. Through this setup, users still get a seamless native and microapp experience.

Superapps encourage composability through in-app development and business structure. They streamline and customize user experience while potentially saving enterprises time, talent, and money.

About Ionic

Ionic is a leader in enterprise mobile app development, with 5 million developers worldwide and thousands of enterprise customers who use Ionic to build mission-critical apps for their customers, both external and internal. It powers 15% of apps in the app store, not including thousands of apps built internally at enterprises for every line-of-business need. Ionic is unique in that it takes a web-first approach, leveraging HTML, CSS, and Javascript to build high-quality iOS, Android, desktop, and Progressive Web Apps.

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