Photo: Czech News
Elon Musk has a penchant for the letter “X”. She calls her son with singer Grimes, whose real name is a collection of letters and symbols, “X.” He named the company he created to buy Twitter “X Holdings”. His rocket company is, of course, SpaceX.
Now he apparently intends to do the same turn Twitter into an “everything app” X is calling.
The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX has for months expressed interest in creating its own version of China’s WeChat — a “super app” that enables video chat, messaging, streaming and payments — for the rest of the world. once it completes its purchase of Twitter after months of legal wrangling over the $44 billion purchase deal it signed in April.
There are only a few obstacles. The first is that Musk-owned Twitter wouldn’t be the only global company pursuing this goal, and in fact, it would likely be catching up with its rivals. Another is the question of whether anyone really wants an all-Twitter-based app — or any other super app — to begin with.
Start with competition and consumer demand. Facebook’s parent company Meta has spent years trying to make its flagship platform a destination for everything online, adding features for payments, gaming, shopping and even dating to its social network. So far this has had little success; almost all of its 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 during the day. None have yet set the world on fire, not least because people already have a number of 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 siphon more personal data at once. when trust in social platforms has deteriorated significantly.
Musk set off 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 acquire Twitter after all. “Twitter’s purchase accelerates the creation of X, the app everything,” he tweeted without further explanation.
But he has at least provided 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 make it radically better.”
And he dropped some strong hints that processing payments for goods and services would be a key part of the app. Musk said he had a “grander vision” of what X.com, the online bank he founded early in his career that eventually became part of PayPal, could have been.
“Obviously you could start from scratch, but I think Twitter would help speed it up by 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 would translate to a US or global audience. The use of WeChat is almost universal in China, where most people have never had a computer at home and have gone straight to connecting to the internet with a 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 the entertainment space. It is also a platform for health code applications that the public must use to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
China has 1 billion Internet users, and almost all of them are online using mobile phones, 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 as of the end of June.
Tencent and its main Chinese competitor, e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, aim to create 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. WeChat’s payment feature, meanwhile, is so widely used that cafes, museums and some other businesses are rejecting cash and will only accept payments 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 big visions don’t always pan out the way he seems to expect. Humans are nowhere near colonizing Mars, and his promised fleet of robotaxis is 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 passed the 1 billion mark, Twitter has about 240 million daily users.
“Musk would not only have to overcome the hurdle of convincing consumers to change their behavior online, but also that Twitter is the place to do it,” Enberg said.
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