What is X, Elon Musk’s super app project?

After buying Twitter, Elon Musk aims to use the social network to design a great application. Explanations.

Owner of Twitter recently, Elon Musk plans to make multiple changes to the social network, particularly in terms of content moderation. However, even before buying the platform, the multi-billionaire mentioned another project: “Buying Twitter will accelerate the creation of X, the all-purpose application”has tweeted the entrepreneur at the beginning of October, when he had once again changed his mind about this acquisition. Elon Musk wants to create a great app, but what could it look like and is this project really feasible?

A popular concept in Asia

Before talking about X, let’s go back to the concept of super app. It is an application providing various services used in day to day life. It allows for example to chat with friends, read the news or pay for purchases in store. For his application capable of doing everything, Elon Musk was inspired by WeChat in China. “You basically live on WeChat in China. If we can recreate that with Twitter, we will have great success”the Tesla boss had said during a virtual meeting with company employees in June.

WeChat has evolved from a simple messenger to an app offering several services, including in-store payment.©Sorbis / Shutterstock

WeChat is the best-known example of super apps. Originally an instant messaging app, today it can be used for chatting, paying bills, making doctor appointments, ordering a taxi, and even starting divorce proceedings, among other things. It has over 1.2 billion monthly active users according to Statista. In addition to WeChat, other “all-purpose applications” exist in Asia, such as Grab in Singapore, with which it is possible to have food delivered, to send parcels or to book a hotel. Similarly, Line in Japan allows users to make phone calls and send messages, as well as listen to music, read the news and search the Internet.

Towards great applications in the West

These super apps are very present in Asia, but they do not exist in the West. “There is no WeChat equivalent outside of China”, Elon Musk had also declared during the virtual meeting with Twitter employees. Nevertheless, applications seek to approach this model by offering certain functionalities. Such is the case of WhatsApp, the messaging service of Meta, which allows users in India and Brazil to send and receive money. Similarly, with Messenger, which also belongs to the Californian group, it is possible to book and pay for a train ticket directly from the application thanks to the SNCF chatbot.

Elon Musk plans to create an application similar to WeChat, which would be called X. Initially, X was the name of an online bank co-founded by the billionaire in 1999, which then merged with PayPal. In 2017, the entrepreneur bought the domain name X.com from PayPal, but currently the site only displays an “x”.

A project far from feasible

Despite his will, Elon Musk’s project is unlikely to see the light of day, because if there is no great Western app today, it is mainly for a question of competition. The different services found on WeChat, Grab or Line are indeed divided into different applications: Apple and Google offer mobile payment solutions, Meta is present on the social network and messaging market with Facebook or WhatsApp, etc. “In China, there is not really the same problem. On the contrary, the playing field is ideal, there is little Western competition, the market is gigantic and, finally, there are no antriust laws comparable to those that can be found in the West, which could prevent Chinese groups to concentrate the activities they want”recently explained Maxime Recoquillé, tech journalist at The Express.

Elon Musk’s project is not compatible with the competition laws of several Western countries. Within the European Union, for example, the regulations in force aim to “ensure fair and equitable conditions for businesses, while promoting innovation, the harmonization of standards and the development of small and medium-sized enterprises”. The European Commission, which is responsible for controlling anti-competitive practices, can thus impose fines on companies that are guilty of them, which would – according to the same companies – have the effect of limiting consumer choice.

After an investigation opened in June 2020, the Commission, for example, informed Apple in May that it suspected the company of abusing its dominant position in contactless payments, by preventing competing solutions from working on its devices. If the firm were found guilty and did not remedy its practices, it would be liable to fines of up to 10% of its annual turnover. With antitrust laws aimed at fighting monopolies, it is therefore unlikely that Elon Musk will be able to develop a Western WeChat.

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