Musk has a “super app” plan for Twitter. It’s super vague

Musk has a “super app” plan for Twitter.  It’s super vague

Musk has a “super app” plan for Twitter. It’s super vague

Elon Musk has a penchant for the letter “X.” He calls his son with singer Grimes, whose real name is a collection of letters and symbols, “X”. He named the company he founded to buy Twitter “X Holdings.” His rocket company is, of course, SpaceX.

Now he also reportedly intends to turn Twitter into an “app for everyone” that he calls X.

For months, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX has expressed interest in creating his own version China‘s WeChat — the “super app” that does video chatting, messaging, streaming and payments — for the rest of the world. At least, that is, after he completed his purchase of Twitter following months of legal battles over the $44 billion purchase agreement he signed in April.

There are only a few obstacles. The first is that Musk-owned Twitter would not be the only global company in pursuit of this goal, and in fact would likely play catch-up with its rivals. The next question is whether one really wants an all Twitter-based app – or any other cool app – to begin with.

Start with competition and consumer demand. Facebook parent Meta has spent years trying to make its flagship platform a destination for everyone online, adding payments, games, shopping and even dating features to its social network. So far he has had little success; almost all revenue still comes from advertising.

Google, Snap, TikTok, Uber and others have also tried to jump on the super app bandwagon, expanding their offerings in an effort to become indispensable to people as they go about their day. None have set the world on fire so far, not least because people already have numerous shopping, communication and payment apps at their disposal.

“Old habits are hard to break, and people in the US are used to using different apps for different activities,” said Jasmine Enberg, principal analyst at Insider Intelligence. Enberg also notes that super apps would likely suck up more personal data at a time when trust in social platforms has deteriorated significantly.

Musk sparked the latest round of speculation on Oct. 4, the day he reversed his attempts to get out of the deal and announced he wanted to take over Twitter after all. “Twitter acquisition accelerates creation of X, all apps,” he tweeted without elaborating.

But he has at least given a little more detail in the past. During Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting in August, Musk told a crowd at the factory near Austin, Texas, that he thought he “had a good sense of where to direct the engineering team with Twitter to be radically better.”

And he dropped some strong hints that handling payments for goods and services would be a key part of the app. Musk said he had a “grander vision” of what, the online bank he started early in his career that eventually became part of PayPal, could have been.

“Obviously it could start from scratch, but I think Twitter would help accelerate that in three to five years,” Musk said in August. “So it’s something that I thought would be quite useful for a long time. I know what to do.”

But it’s not clear that WeChat’s success in China means the same idea could translate to an American or global audience. The use of WeChat is almost universal in China, where most people have never had a computer at home and skipped straight to the internet via mobile phone.

The platform, operated by tech giant Tencent Holding Ltd., has become a one-stop shop for payments and other services and is starting to compete in entertainment. It is also a platform for health code applications that the public must use to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

China has one billion Internet users, and nearly all connect via mobile phone, according to the government-sanctioned China Internet Network Information Center. Only 33% use desktop computers at all — and mostly in addition to mobile phones. Tencent says WeChat had 1.3 billion users worldwide by the end of June.

Tencent and its main Chinese competitor, e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, aim to make apps that offer so many services that users can’t easily switch to another app. They are not the only ones.

WeChat has added video calling and other messaging features, as well as shopping, entertainment and other features. Government agencies use it to send health, traffic and other notifications. Meanwhile, WeChat’s payment feature is so widespread that coffee shops, museums and some other businesses are rejecting cash and accepting payments only through WeChat or rival app Ant.

There is no comparable app in the US, despite the efforts of tech companies.

It’s worth remembering that Musk’s grand visions don’t always work out the way he seems to expect. Humans are nowhere near colonizing Mars and its promised robotaxis fleet remains about as far from reality as the metaverse.

Twitter’s user base is also small compared to its social platform competitors. While Facebook, Instagram and TikTok have long crossed the billion mark, Twitter has around 240 million daily users.

“Musk would not only have to overcome the hurdle of convincing consumers to change the way they behave online, but also that Twitter is the place to do it,” Enberg said.


Associated Press writer Joe McDonald contributed to this story.

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