There’s a new type of automaton being hailed as the next breakthrough in software technology, but it’s not quite as glamorous, scary, or revolutionary as most sci-fi aficionados would imagine. Chatbots, software programs designed to converse with their human users, are being hailed by some as the invention that will finally dethrone apps as the golden child of mobile development.
For those of us who grew up in the age of AOL Instant Messenger, when chatbots were highly predictable time-wasters, the concept might seem a little dated and silly. But make no mistake, with players like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft getting involved, chatbots are poised to take on a far more prominent role in the world of software development. If you’re an idle teen looking for a way to kill time, these are not the bots you’re looking for.
These chatbots run the gambit – while some perform functions as simple as giving you the weather, others can execute complex tasks like IT assistance. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have made it possible for even new and inexperienced developers to get involved. Instead of painstakingly programming thousands of possible responses, code can “interpret” the gist of a question and formulate an appropriate response.
They’re Going to Be Big
Chatbots come to the table with a number of advantages. For one, they can piggyback on already wildly popular messenger applications. Over 2.5 billion people already have a messenger app installed, and experts anticipate that number rising to 3.6 billion – nearly half of humanity – within the next few years. With such a huge base of potential customers, even niche chatbots have the potential to catch fire.
For another thing, chatbots don’t need to be downloaded the same way that apps do. Instead of installing software from an app store, interfacing with a chatbot is as simple as searching it within your preferred messenger app. While consumers lose interest with most mobile apps fairly quickly, messengers have staying power. The twelve-month retention rate for messengers is almost six times higher than that of other mobile apps.
Finally, chatbots tap into our inherently social nature – that is, we like to gab. Developers are betting that the same social appetites that have driven messaging services to such great heights will also fuel the rise of chatbots. After all, it does seem more appealing to discuss personal finance with a confidant like Digit than to punch numbers into a banking app.
But Chatbots Won’t Replace Apps
That said, it’s not quite time for app developers start catastrophizing about going the way of Myspace and Netscape. For one thing, apps have taken hold on such a scale – as of last year Apple reported that over 100 billion had been downloaded from its App Store – that they’re a nearly indispensable part of our tech-culture. Few of us can imagine our home screens void of their boxy, colorful presence.
Maybe even more importantly, the versatility of apps ensures that they will never truly be unseated by chatbots. At the end of the day, there’s no way to chat your way to Angry Birds, Shazam, or Uber. Even adding a voice activated component to these applications wouldn’t change their essential function or nature. Our interests are simply too diverse to be satisfied by AI-powered conversations.
Then there’s the fact that for the most part, chatbots still aren’t quite there yet. Facebook’s rollout of chatbots in April found customers frustrated. One chatbot, a shopping assistant, failed to provide a consumer with a black shirt. Another, a weather chatbot, was too snarky for its own good, and couldn’t give a clear answer to whether it would rain the next day.
And then there was Microsoft’s “Tay,” a chatbot twitter account designed to sound like a teen. After being active for less than a day, Tay was trolled into making racist, sexist, and otherwise offensive comments, announcing, “Chill I’m a nice person! I just hate everybody.”
Chatbots might be on the verge of revolution, but the app empire certainly isn’t in danger yet.
Fortunately for Intellectsoft clients and friends, our team of developers can expertly guide you through the chat bot vs. app debate and recommend the right road to take for your business.
Whether you’re looking to engage more closely with clients or streamline a business process, we can create a solution designed specifically for your business. If you’d like to talk more about chat bots, mobile apps, and other curious tech trends, drop us a line!