Update: 9 PM ET 12/6
The Information confirms that it had considered Microsoft Start as this app, but it is not the story's focus, and indeed, Microsoft's "super app" idea is reportedly something else. One significant difference I note at the end of this article is that Microsoft Start lacks messaging or a social network, which could be a differentiator for whatever Microsoft has coming next.
A new report from The Informatio (opens in new tab)n came out this morning with the intriguing title “Microsoft Eyes ‘Super App’ to Break Apple and Google’s Hold on Mobile Search.”
Well, that certainly sounds exciting. Anything that adds competition and can shake up the tech world is always welcomed, so Microsoft must have a serious game plan here.
But, unfortunately, the story is nonsense since it’s in the past tense.
Let me explain.
What is a Super App?
The “super app” concept has been around for a while, and the raison d’etre is to keep consumers glued to one app as much as possible because views equal clicks, which equates to the Benjamins. To Westerners, the concept is primarily new, although Facebook has attempted it by piling as much garbage into the site as news, markets, video, and more.
Even Elon Musk has had visions of an “X: The Everything app” (insert eye roll), which reportedly may be what he tries to turn Twitter into with crypto payments, stores, and more. Just what nobody wanted.
Such an idea is not new; the genuine model for it is WeChat based out of China. WeChat does everything: 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.
Starting in 2011, WeChat has amassed over 1 billion users.
The reason why it’s so successful? Since it banned them all, China doesn’t have much competition for websites and social networks! So it has locked out Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, Twitter, Vimeo, Dropbox, OpenVPN, Flickr, OneDrive, Twitch.tv, Tapatalk, and nearly every major Western news outlet.
In other words, having a Super App is relatively easy when all the major players aren’t allowed on the field.
Moreover, this being China, it should not be a shock that there are rampant reports that the Chinese government utilizes WeChat as a surveillance tool on its citizens and even foreign users outside the country.
And you thought Google was bad.
Super App: Enter Microsoft?
Getting back to the report by The Information, Microsoft reportedly wants to head down a similar path as a counterweight to Google and Apple’s mobile search advances. Or, as one author on Seeking Alpha put it today:
“Microsoft’s “super app” could be designed to bring shopping, messaging, web search, news feeds and other services into one app, similar to how Tencent’s WeChat operates in China. According to a report from The Information, one of the people close to the matter said that WeChat, which also 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 all checks as the modus operandi for any major tech company that covets the next big thing (NBT).
Of course, there is no ETA on such an app, and our Senior Editor Zac Bowden has heard nothing of such a gestating project.
But there is a more significant issue here, which seems obvious: This is old news, and the app already exists.
Looking again at the description by Seeking Alpha, this sounds a lot like … Microsoft Start. That’s the rebranded Microsoft News app back in September 2021. To refresh your memory:
“Microsoft has today announced that it is launching a new personalized feed website called “Microsoft Start” designed to make it easy to gather news and information content from premium publishers in one place. The company says that Microsoft Start builds off the legacy of MSN and Microsoft News, with enhanced AI and machine learning paired with human moderation to help curate content.”
Shopping, weather, web search, games, wallpaper, news, personal interests, Microsoft Rewards, Microsoft Start already does a lot of stuff. If it's not a super app, I'm not sure what is.
Did you know you can even set it as your default SMS client on Android? I didn’t until I started writing this article. I still don’t know how it works, but it’s a thing. You can also set Microsoft Start as your default web browser since Edge powers the darned thing.
But wait, there’s more!
Microsoft Start’s apps include Buy Direct, COVID-19 info, deals, games, health, math tools, nearby, Money, OneDrive, video, unit converter, World Cup coverage, etc. The math tool is elegant as you can take a picture of any math problem, and via AI, it can be solved, graphed, and explained to you in seconds.
You can even scan your receipts and get cash back. Seriously.
So, let me get this straight: Microsoft is reportedly working on a ‘Super App’?
Folks, it’s been here for over a year now, right in front of our faces the entire time. Now, the question is, is it even good? I supply it a solid meh. I find myself using it primarily for news, but there is no doubt Microsoft is shoehorning as much as it can into this thing to make it a super app. It’s a solid effort and a clear example of what such a concept could look like, but I find it unlikely it will gain much traction simply because we eschew such things in Western markets.
The news curation, done mainly by AI these days instead of human journalists (as in the past before Microsoft fired them all), is also controversial. Like all things AI, it has some wins by learning what you like, but it is also fallible. Just today, the site Futurism wrote the headline “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 U.S. and elsewhere, but my gut says this won’t work. If anything, Microsoft Start is missing a social network that keeps people returning. Maybe that’s more reason for Microsoft to buy Twitter. But if you’re waiting for Microsoft’s super-secret app to appear, the good news is you can download it today (or fourteen months ago).
Am I overly cynical about this? Let me know on Twitter: @daniel_rubino.