‘Everything app’ X: Elon Musk may want WeChat for the world, but building it won’t be easy

The Tesla (TSLA) The CEO said late Tuesday that he wanted to create a new app called “X” after buying Twitter.
“Buying Twitter is an accelerator to create X, everything is an app,” he said he tweeted.
Musk’s comments suggest he once again reversed course and decided to pursue Twitter for $44 billion, a price originally agreed upon in April.
The takeover would put the world’s richest man in charge of one of the most influential social networks around, after months of twists and turns.

Now, he has compared Musk’s plans to build what will be a multi-purpose platform to Asian “super apps,” essentially one-stop shops that do everything for users.

Several tech companies in the region have already found success with their own versions of these apps. Chief among them is WeChat, a platform owned by the Chinese tech giant Tencent (Czech Republic) and is sometimes described as Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), Snapchat (SNAP) and PayPal (PYPL) all rolled into one.

More than a billion users, mostly in mainland China, rely on the social network to do almost everything – order groceries, book a yoga class and pay bills – all without leaving the app.

In other parts of Asia, people have also moved to apps like Singapore and Malaysia’s Grab (GRAB) or Japan’s Line. Grab was initially known as a ride-hailing service provider, while Line gained popularity as a messaging app, and both have since expanded significantly to offer other features.
Musk has not been shy about his desire to emulate WeChat’s success. In a town hall with Twitter employees in June, he compared the potential of the American company to Tencent’s ubiquitous service in China.

“I think a major goal of Twitter would be to try to reach as much of the country, as much of the world as possible,” the billionaire businessman said. “You basically live on WeChat in China because it’s so useful and helpful for everyday life, and I think if we could achieve that, or come close to that on Twitter, it would be a huge success.”

Musk isn’t the only major US tech leader taking cues from China: Previously, Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg also suggested that WeChat should be a case study for his company.

Tough competition

For now, Musk has yet to outline his plans for the X. But analysts say it would face many challenges.

First: the landscape of fierce competition. To some extent, WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and “everything” are trying to “become super apps as well,” said Ivan Lam, a senior research analyst at Hong Kong-based Counterpoint Research.

“Trying to make it a super app is actually very difficult,” he said in an interview.

Xiaofeng Wang, principal analyst at Forrester, who focuses on digital marketing and engagement strategies in Asia Pacific, echoed this sentiment, noting that the industry has become more saturated in recent years.

“When WeChat launched extended services beyond social, there weren’t yet that many established competitors in related businesses,” he told CNN Business.

“For example, when WeChat Pay launched, there [weren’t] Some mobile payment services that are still well established in China … In the US, there’s already PayWave, Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, Venmo.”

Mini apps can reinvent the way you use your iPhone.  China led the way

According to Wang, companies trying to expand in the sector can also face a lot of pressure from policy makers.

“The more flexible regulatory environment in China at the time gave Internet companies like Tencent and Alibaba more opportunities to expand into a wider range of businesses. WeChat benefited from it and grew into a super app,” he said.

“It would be much more difficult now, given the stricter antitrust regulations in China, and it would certainly be more difficult for Twitter or future X to do so in the US,” he added.

Perhaps the fundamental challenge, however, is trying to be everything to everyone.

As Lam points out, many successful “super apps” tend to target specific audiences, making it easier to tailor a set of services to their needs. That would be difficult to replicate globally, and could mean that Twitter or X would also need to focus on certain regions to get off the ground, he said.

Elon Musk at an event in Texas in August.  Tesla's CEO made the news this week by proposing to pursue its bid to buy Twitter.
Musk has acknowledged an uphill battle. On Tuesday, a Twitter user placed “X would have been easier to start from scratch,” the billionaire replied that Twitter was an important part of the plan.
“Twitter accelerates X by 3 to 5 years, but I could be wrong,” Musk he wrote.

Wang said Forrester’s research showed there were fundamental differences in how Western and Chinese users viewed social media, making it more difficult for Western companies to “create the same level of trust.”

“Intentions aside, it may be much harder to create a super app like WeChat in the West,” he concluded.

– Clare Duffy contributed to this report.