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Careem: The First Super App In The Middle East


Isadora Teich wrote this article


The US is so large and full of exciting tech developments day in and day out that it’s easy to forget to peek into the wider world of apps and see what’s going on abroad.

The American app market is far from the only one, after all.

The rise of apps is a global phenomenon pushed into prominence even faster by the pandemic, with exciting things happening on every continent.

As app developers that prosper in one market often fail to break through in others with the same intensity for a host of reasons, I think it’s incredibly important to keep global trends in mind.

We can learn a lot from studying which apps succeed where, and why. Click To Tweet

Today, I want to take a look at Careem, a mega popular and quickly evolving Super App in the Middle East.

What Is Careem?

Currently, Careem is a Dubai-based Super App, which offers a host of different services.

However, it did not begin that way. Careem was established in July 2012 as a ride hailing app, similar to Uber.

After taking off in the Middle East, it was acquired by Uber in 2020 for $3.1 billion.

Today, Careem operates in over 100 cities across 14 countries. And it can be used to do far more than hail rides. You can order food from restaurants and grocery stores and essential daily items.

It also enables peer-to-peer credit transfer, online shopping, and mobile top ups, with likely more features and capabilities on the way.

The Covid Effect

In less than a year, Careem has gone from the Middle East’s answer to Uber to a Super App. This is largely because of the pandemic. Pandemic lockdowns meant the fewer people were going places and needed to hail rides.

In fact, rides were down by 80% for Careem. While Careem had plans to expand their services before the pandemic, covid sped this process along.

Mudassir Sheikha, the CEO and co-founder of Careem, told CNN:

“Covid-19 has really been a booster. Our customers were locked down, so they started asking, ‘You have drivers, can you deliver my food?'”

However, Careem is not the first super app to sweep a region.

While there are not yet any super apps that provide multiple diverse services in one integrated platform with a lot of popularity in the US, they have been huge in Asian markets for years.

The Super Apps Of Asia

The one super app that most Americans probably have heard of is China’s WeChat. Initially, it was simply a messaging service like WhatsApp. However, a lot has changed in only a few short years.

WeChat now has over a billion users in China, and you can use WeChat to accomplish all sorts of different things via app. You can use WeChat to play videogames, book flights, and even pay for utilities. Created by Tencent, it is considered to be the world’s first Super App.

There are numerous widely popular Super Apps throughout Asia. This includes China’s Alipay and Singapore’s Grab.

Other Asian countries have been taking to the Super App idea as well. The Japanese chat app LINE evolved into an app to help you do most everyday activities last year.

In India, the app Paytm has evolved into an app where you can pay for almost anything from tickets to utilities to financial services, and also order food.

What Exactly Is A Super App?

It is likely that as things progress, we will see many western apps attempt to brand themselves as Super Apps, whether they actually are or not. Click To Tweet

While it has not exactly left the eastern world yet as a popular concept or buzzword, it is likely only a matter of time before it hits the European and American markets. For some reasons which we will explore, developing widely popular Super Apps in the west may be a tall order.

However, first thing’s first, what exactly do Super Apps do, other than simply “everything”? You might be wondering if Amazon or Uber are already Super Apps. After all, you can order almost anything in the world from Amazon. Also, you can use Uber to both hail rides and order food.

Super Apps require multiple diverse functions in one app.

They are a destination app where you can search for services or things and acquire them without leaving the app.You know how to find them and can use them without having to rely on any other apps or platforms. You browse, buy, book, and pay as part of one streamlined experience.

Also, Super Apps do not go it alone.

They often partner with other businesses and work with them to provide a range of services. The nature of this is that they want to enable their partners to succeed. After all, partners succeeding within the Super App ecosystem benefits all of the companies, employees, and users involved.

So, when will Super Apps take off in the Western Hemisphere?

Of course, no one can predict with complete accuracy what the future holds. However, so far, there appears to be a number of complicated reasons why Super Apps have not caught fire in the US, and why their road to dominance might be a bit more rocky.

It’s Hard To Break Old Habits

For one, many countries were behind the US when it came to developing habits and culture surrounding internet infrastructure initially.

These same countries that are now soaring past us in terms of Super App innovation did not have vast internet infrastructures for years.

While they have developed their mobile cultures and expectations around Super Apps, in the West, we have not. We’ve always had many different apps to choose from. Whereas in other countries, typically a select few were able to garner resources early enough to amass what is essentially a mini monopoly in their localized app markets.

In the US, we may even favor the appearance of many options.

For one, it is what we are used to. For another, Americans especially favor individualism and having access to a wide array of things which appear different that freedom of choice can provide.

While many Asian countries are mobile-first tech cultures to the extent that they hardly offer desktop versions of apps, generations of Americans are used to their desktop computers first.

It’s a lot harder to get people to abandon what they are already used to, than to build brand new habits.

For example, while WhatsApp is the communication standard in most of the world, most Americans still don’t use it.

Cash Culture

One key element of all Super Apps is that they are essentially integrated with users wallets.

In the US especially, this doesn’t seem like anything particularly exciting and important. Over 90% of Americans have bank accounts and can use cash or cards at their discretion without hassle.  However, it is important to remember that in many countries this was not the case.

In many countries throughout the world, cash was still king, and large portions of the populations did not have bank accounts. This is where Super Apps were able to step in and offer accessible payment solutions.

Final Thoughts

Careem is incredibly exciting, because it is the first big Super App to pop up outside of Asian markets.

It is also the first ever Super App in the Middle East.

Careem is currently in the process of changing the entire tech landscape of the region, with teams in Karachi, Lahore, Dubai, and Berlin.

Their first lines of code were even created in Pakistan.

While Super Apps may not exactly overtake the western landscape, it is likely that we will see more and more of these apps in developing markets and regions. They will also likely influence how apps are conceived of and constructed in the West in the future.

Do you think the next big American Super App is on the way?

Talk to me.

About Since 2009, we have helped create 350+ next-generation apps for startups, Fortune 500s, growing businesses, and non-profits from around the globe. Think Partner, Not Agency.


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