The race for the everything app

Who is the WeChat of the West? Recent article by a16z partner Connie Chan described how a single app could offer most mobile services users need. Enabled by end-to-end integrations and a seamless payment system, WeChat helps hail a cab, order food, book doctor appointments, pay bills, read news and meet people nearby. The core feature (which WeChat masters): messaging. For once, Silicon Valley tech giants got inspired by this Chinese paradigm shift, and are now racing to offer the one messaging app for everything mobile.

Let’s start with the top contender: Facebook, with Messenger, led by former PayPal chief David Marcus. The recently announced Facebook Messenger platform stays quite close to the WeChat playbook: full payment integration, with a focus on retail and travel, to start. The move is both user-oriented — messaging is the first mobile use case — and business-oriented — the customer relationship becomes a conversation with a history and a context.

What if those “business” messages were public? Not sure it’s the direction Jack Dorsey is taking, but Twitter could have a shot at this. Say I’m looking for a restaurant tonight: all my Twitter friends could help. Also, restaurants could make offers. All tweets would be public — businesses would be more accountable — but not publicized, not to annoy my followers. And who is going to make the best offer? Facebook seems to miss this (for now): we always speak to multiple businesses at once, and our interest/attention is constantly up for auction.

Speaking of auctions, Google might also be in a position to compete in this race. First, they are 10x smarter in terms of user history and behavior, though they lack proper user ID. Second, they own Android: they don’t face any mobile OS threat (which Facebook does, see this recent article by Ben Evans). Third: Google Search is the ultimate command line. Sort of like AI-based messaging: users type words and receive hyper relevant results. Last but not least, they also entered the messaging space, with a business angle, by investing in Symphony — which goes after Bloomberg, the biggest social network the Valley has never heard of.

This command line positioning (and the business angle) is also part of Slack’s vision, as pointed out by its CEO. Slack started with internal team communication and a double focus on (1) topic-based channels and (2) integrations with apps. Now let’s imagine the following: the channel is #mombirthday and the apps are Magnolia Bakery and Burberry. The family could discuss gift ideas, get quotes from merchants and order cupcakes from the same thread. Also, there is no doubt Slackbot is going to get smarter with time, and help with many tasks through its increasing intelligence and new integrations: book a restaurant for my business lunch, find a cab to go to a meeting, etc.

The future of (mobile) computing is lines of text addressed to a friend, a business or a bot (see also Fred Wilson’s take). Another title for this post could have been “Kill the web”: all these apps dramatically reduce the need for web browsing — and for that matter, email.

Originally published at on October 20, 2015.