This morning, The Information published a new report with the intriguing title “Microsoft Eyes ‘Super App’ to Break Apple and Google’s Hold on Mobile Search.”
That certainly sounds thrilling. Anything that adds competition and has the potential to shake up the tech world is always welcome, so Microsoft must have a serious game plan in place here.
Unfortunately, the story is nonsense because it is written in the past tense.
What exactly is a Super App?
The concept of a “super app” has been around for a while, and its raison d’être is to keep consumers glued to one app as much as possible because views equal clicks, which equals money. To Westerners, the concept is primarily new, though Facebook has attempted it by piling as much garbage as news, markets, video, and more into the site.
Elon Musk has reportedly had visions of an “X: The Everything app” (insert eye roll), which may be what he tries to turn Twitter into with crypto payments, stores, and other features. That’s exactly what no one
Such an idea is not new; the actual model is WeChat, which is based in China. Chat, games, social networks, top stories, Weixin Pay Transfer, Group Split Bill, live streams, search, mini-programs, buying goods and services, marketing, and even where people get customer support from other companies are all available on WeChat.
WeChat has over 1 billion users since its inception in 2011.
What’s the secret to its success? China doesn’t have much competition for websites and social networks because it has banned them all! As a result, Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, Twitter, Vimeo, Dropbox, OpenVPN, Flickr, OneDrive, Twitch.tv, Tapatalk, and nearly every major Western news outlet are no longer accessible.
In other words, having a Super App is relatively simple when all of the major players are barred from playing.
Furthermore, given that this is China, it should come as no surprise that the Chinese government uses WeChat as a surveillance tool on its citizens and even foreign users outside the country.
And you thought Google was a bad thing.
Enter Microsoft’s Super App?
Returning to The Information’s report, Microsoft reportedly wants to follow a similar path as a counterweight to Google and Apple’s mobile search advances. Alternatively, as one author on Seeking Alpha put it today:
“Microsoft’s “super app” could combine shopping, messaging, web search, news feeds, and other services into a single app, similar to how Tencent’s WeChat works in China.” According to The Information, “WeChat, which offers online games and grocery ordering as part of its app, among other services, was part of the inspiration for the Microsoft plan.”
So far, this appears to be the standard operating procedure for any major technology company seeking the next big thing.
Of course, there is no ETA for such an app, and our Senior Editor Zac Bowden has heard nothing about it.
However, there is a more serious issue here that appears obvious: this is old news, and the app already exists.
Looking over Seeking Alpha’s description again, this sounds a lot like… Microsoft Start. Back in September 2021, that was the rebranded Microsoft News app. To refresh your memory, try these:
“Microsoft today announced the launch of “Microsoft Start,” a new personalised feed website designed to make it simple to gather news and information content from premium publishers in one place.” Microsoft Start, according to the company, “builds on the legacy of MSN and Microsoft News, with enhanced AI and machine learning paired with human moderation to help curate content.”
Microsoft Start, in addition to an app for Android and iOS, is part of the new Widgets Panel in Windows 11 and the New Tab feature in Microsoft Edge.
Shopping, weather, web search, games, wallpaper, news, personal interests, Microsoft Rewards, and Microsoft Start do a lot of things already. If that isn’t a fantastic app, I don’t know what is.
Did you know that you can make it your default SMS client on Android? I didn’t realise it until I began writing this article. I’m still not sure how it works, but it exists. You can also make Microsoft Start your default web browser because it is powered by Edge.
But hold on, there’s more!
Buy Direct, COVID-19 info, deals, games, health, math tools, nearby, Money, OneDrive, video, unit converter, World Cup coverage, and other apps are available in Microsoft Start. The math tool is elegant in that it allows you to take a picture of any math problem and have it solved, graphed, and explained to you in seconds using AI.
You can even get cash back by scanning your receipts. Seriously.
So, to clarify, Microsoft is reportedly working on a “Super App”?
It’s been here for over a year, right in front of our faces the whole time. The question now is, is it any good? It gets a solid meh from me. I mostly use it for news, but there’s no doubt Microsoft is cramming as much as it can into this thing to make it a super app. It’s a solid effort and a clear example of how such a concept could look, but I doubt it will gain much traction simply because such things are frowned upon in Western markets.
News curation, which is now primarily done by AI rather than human journalists (as it was before Microsoft fired them all), is also contentious.
It has some wins by learning what you like, but it is also fallible, as is all AI. Today, the website Futurism ran a story titled “MSN Deletes Fake News About Mermaids and Bigfoot, Runs New Story About Haunted Ventriloquist Dummy.”
Maybe I’m wrong and Microsoft Start is the NBT and will lead this super app craze in the United States and elsewhere, but my gut tells me this isn’t going to work. If anything, Microsoft Start lacks a social network that will keep users coming back. Perhaps this is another reason for Microsoft to acquire Twitter. If you’re waiting for Microsoft’s top-secret app, the good news is that you can get it right now.
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