Will X Become The ‘Everything’ App?

WeChat isn’t just a social media or messaging app in China. For many of the country’s 1.4 billion residents, it’s the conduit through which they travel, eat, pay household bills and much more. 

Now Elon Musk wants to make ‘X’, formerly Twitter, WeChat for the Western world. In the opening hour of ‘The Social Network’, Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg develops the prototype for Facebook and hails it as an app that will be so much more than just chatting with friends. 

China’s WeChat really embodies that vision born, ironically, from the country’s banning of Facebook, Instagram and Google some years ago. But what is WeChat and how did it gain this traction? Why does Musk want to do this and crucially, can he do it?

What is WeChat?

Launched in 2013 by one of the country’s largest developers, TenCent, the app is simply a social necessity for China’s citizens and commands a commensurate user base. 

“Imagine if you used OpenTable, Uber and Deliveroo entirely inside the Facebook app, using your Facebook identity and a Facebook payment account instead of a credit card and then you paid for coffee and paid for the tube with it as well,” Benedict Evans, a tech analyst, told The Guardian recently.

The payment integration is WeChat’s real cash cow and marks a barrier not yet breached by Western social media. Facebook allows money to be sent to friends or business but there is no built-in payment software compatible with everyday vendors. 

Here’s WeChat’s dominance by the numbers:

  • Over 1 billion monthly active users worldwide
  • 800 million monthly active WeChat Pay users
  • 50% of users spend 90 minutes per day on WeChat
  • Typical user born in the 1980s and 1990s, living in urban areas
  • Average user reads seven articles per day
  • 36% of users open WeChat 30 times or more per day
  • 35% of total time on mobile devices is spent on WeChat

Why is Elon Pushing This?

Occam’s Razor tells us, ‘because he’s Elon Musk and thinks he can’ and there proof of concept here looking at how he has built his numerous other ventures, notably Tesla, SpaceX and The Boring Company.

But the dream of a Western ‘everything app’ has been around for a while.

Singapore-headquartered Grab, Southeast Asia’s answer to Uber and Careem, which Uber bought in 2020 for $3.1 billion, both offer super apps. According to technology-focused news outlet, The Register, Grab’s services also include food delivery and digital payments. 

Careem, meanwhile, started life as a ride-hailing company but now offers a range of services on its super app, from food delivery to car and bike rentals to a Venmo-like digital wallet. 

As recently as last December, Microsoft was rumoured to have a smartphone ‘super app’ in development that, according to The Information, would combine a range of mobile consumer services to fuel advertising and drive users to products including Bing and Teams.

Musk even made noises about the notion ahead of his acquisition of X, then called Twitter. He then re-iterated the commitment last month, saying “In the months to come, we will add comprehensive communications and the ability to conduct your entire financial world.”

Freshly-minted chief executive, Linda Yaccarino, followed Musk’s statement with “X is the future state of unlimited interactivity – centered in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking – creating a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services, and opportunities.” Even gambling and casino site integration could be on the cards.

Could it Work?

How could WeChat’s dominance be replicated across a platform with an existing ideology and expectation from its users?

Intregating payments across its social media landscape may not be such a moonshot as it might initially seem. After all, X’s user base, while significantly smaller than WeChat, is driven by a different demographic.

Celebrities and persons of note on the platform frequently leave links to paid website options in their descriptions, which could prove an opportunity for X to offer an integrated payment solution. 

But would you trust Elon with your payments process? One thing’s for sure, the bombastic billionaire’s war on culture wars, both via his platform and the mainstream media, has won him fans but also lost a lot to what they see as a toxic culture. 

This sentiment has circulated before around Musk’s operations, particularly from former employees of both X and Tesla who were unceremoniously laid off in their droves as a cost-cutting measure.  Then there’s the large and thorny issue of culture and competition. China’s technology landscape in 2013 was fluid and sufficiently lacking in structure to facilitate and everything app. 

To boot, WeChat Pay is one of the two biggest mobile payments services in China, the other being Alipay which is run by Ant Group, an affiliate of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.

The western world, meanwhile, has clearly defined power players at the top of their demographics; Meta for social media, Amazon for e-commerce etc, making the notion of an everything app harder to envisage. 

During his tenure, Musk has already instituted significant changes in his platform’s functionality, however. One of these is to expand its capacity for communication, drastically increasing the character length for those subscribed to Twitter Blue.

This could be a viable way for the platform to build its base around adding new concept and realise a new vision separate from its Twitter legacy. WeChat functionality could become embedded across X, from news consumption, chat and purchases or even gambling.

But all this development requires capital and lots of it to fund scores of teams to build, trial, fix and roll out the technology. For a company with an estimated debt burden of $13bn, that progress, it would seem, remains a vision for now. 

To realise his ‘everything app’ dream, Musk has more than one mountain to climb. 

Financially and from a competition perspective, the odds are against a product of WeChat’s nature flourishing within the socio-economic conditions of the 21st century western world. 

No one’s betting against Musk believing in the potential and putting the full power of his resources behind it.

But it would seem there’s little room in the market to sway existing adopters in the respective sectors of online payments and social media towards the ‘X’ brand as a Swiss army knife for their daily lives.