Why chatbots are replacing apps
Let's face it, mobile apps have become an overflowing bin of disparate digital objects. A million apps that do mostly the same thing, some better and some worse. Some are one-off campaign apps, and others are struggling businesses barely able to ride through the sea of sameness.
Every app has its own user interface, its own rules, and its own way of interpreting how to filter an image or track your run while draining the life out of our precious smart devices.
ComScore did a study and found that the average American devotes about half their app time to a single app. The second most used app gets about 18 percent of total app time, and the third most-used one gets about 10 percent of the time. Combined, these three programs total 80 percent of total app time.
I am sure I don't need to tell you that the single app that most people spend half their time on is Facebook. We can probably deduce that the second and third are also Facebook-owned properties.
Facebook Messenger, being part of Facebook, is probably the one app that is truly poised to transcend the app market and deliver utility, services, games, and commerce directly through its ubiquitous user interface known as chat.
Chat takes away the need for sifting through millions of product listings and bad search results. A website or app is not suited for the pace at which we use our mobile devices.
Even if you're lounging around by the pool and have all the time in the world, you can tap on tiny hamburger menus and squint your way through a grid of a thousand items that you can barely tell apart, struggling to search through thumbnails until you finally zoom in on one and realize that you are down a rabbit hole, a navigational nightmare that forces you to throw your phone into the pool out of anger and frustration.
Enter the chatbots
Chatbots employ a conversational interface that is both lean and smart, and if designed properly is even charming. Chat helps people find the things they want and need, as well as delivering great services and information directly into an interface they already know and love.
People pour themselves into messaging apps. Have you ever watched someone in a meeting or on the street, texting like a lion hunting on the Serengeti, so fluid and natural? Even the least tech savvy person is a master at the chat.
So why wouldn't it be clearly obvious to everyone that chatbots and natural language will be the interface of choice on our mobile devices?
It has always bothered me that apps required so much work to find, download and maintain -- such high barriers to entry for such little return. Not to mention that some actually cost money!
Think about how much work it takes to compare and decide on which app to download. Then actually downloading it is never as easy as it sounds, and then the anxiety of where on your home screen to put it on, and then learning yet another new interface.
Chatbots are the singularity that smart devices have been waiting for, the streamlined experience that will finally unshackle us from the burden that our apps put on our devices. Apps slow us down. For most of what we do on our mobile devices, the chatbot and chat interface are ideal.
Add in A.I.
Artificial intelligence adds to the experience by learning about our behaviors and only showing us those things it knows we want and need, drastically reducing the time and effort it takes to surf. Surfing is a desktop and tablet behavior -- phones are all about speed and efficiency.
Now don't get me wrong, I do love apps, and apps won't be going away anytime soon, but the majority of the things we need to do via our mobile devices we can do through a chatbot interface using natural human language and artificial intelligence.
Artificial intelligence is getting better by the day, and A.I. will allow chatbots to become more in tune with our behaviors and needs. A.I. will parse the context of our lives and allow chatbots to communicate with us in that context.
Imagine after a bad breakup you engage with a chatbot. It acts empathetic to your situation and suggests some weekend getaways that might help cheer you up. The same chatbot could book that getaway for you immediately and suggest a few outfits that will make you look great. Maybe it also suggests that you allow it to book you a reservation at one of the nearby hotspots.
As brands become more comfortable trusting chatbots to engage their audiences, we will see a renaissance of sorts where the craft of building a successful and engaging chatbot will go from simple decision tree logic that doesn't really do much more than answer simple questions to chatbots that are extremely robust. They will connect to intelligence engines like Google's Tensor Flow or IBM's Watson that are also connected to a number of various content repositories as well as business systems that can all feed into a charming personality of the natural language interface.
What I love most about chatbots are that you can deploy them in so many different places and platforms. They can be voice enabled or text enabled.
The ability that chatbots have to parse language for meaning and context means we can now create much more meaningful and precise 1:1 experiences that can scale way beyond the finite interfaces of an app. In the end, chatbots are going to make apps look like clunky experiences that don't really take into account that today's mobile users need the most lightweight and easily accessible features and functions to blaze through their day.