Recent studies are demonstrating that people are using fewer apps, despite the fact that people spend 85% of their time on smartphones, with 80% of that time being spent on three non-native apps that have been installed from the App Store of Google Play. While engagement with these apps is increasing, it seems that the data is skewed towards the most heavily-used apps, which are often those created by Google and Facebook. Messaging services, in particular, have seen increased popularity in recent years, perhaps demonstrating a desire for messaging within mobile activity.
The emergence of the continued development of chatbots seems to confirm this desire, as they allow for businesses and brands to interact with their customers without the need to invest in the development of apps, which would require customers to develop familiarity with user interfaces in addition to having a need to update regularly. No less a source than Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is touting chatbots as a means to deal with app overload on the platform.
In 2015, it was also revealed that messaging platforms had actually overtaken social networks in regards to the number of monthly users, with such platforms considered to be ripe for brands and businesses due to the fact that their services can often be integrated into the user interfaces of the apps that customers have already become accustomed to. Messaging services like KiK and Facebook Messenger have already started to introduce bots that can be used for everything from paying bills through to checking weather forecasts, all in one place without the need for downloading additional apps. Furthermore, Amazon and Facebook have both been granting developers with access to their APIs in recent months so that they can take advantage of pre-existing platforms and use them to activate skills that are based around their bots’ natural language processing (NLP).
This move towards messaging platforms and the use of chatbots suggests an evolution that may lead us to a world where the app as we know it no longer exists. A preference for conversational user interfaces, which make use of text and voice, over graphical interfaces appears to be emerging, as can perhaps be best seen with the popularity of Siri and other chatbots that are able to receive commands and direct users to what they are searching for.
Chatbots are also continually evolving, gaining new abilities that allow them to search, connect and perform various tasks to the point where they could replace apps that perform similar functions. Simple actions, such as ordering a pizza, are becoming easier with chatbots and the challenges now facing chatbot developers revolve around ensuring the technology can understand natural language and execute commands based on vocal inflection and interpreted context, rather than parsing input based on context that is already provided. Upon that evolution it may be that there is no longer any need for apps, as a single, fully-developed chatbot would be able to handle almost anything that may previously have required an app.
However, while chatbots are usable in transactional cases, such as when ordering the aforementioned pizza or receiving customer service, questions still remain about how such technology wold be able to handle non-transactional cases, such as playing games. Text and voice alone may not be able to handle such cases, so it is likely that the development of more refined graphical user interfaces will be required to go hand-in-hand with the developing chatbots.
As for how this will affect the app and its future, getting rid of the need for customers to download and configure applications through the use of messaging platforms and increasingly complex chatbots offers brands and businesses with a potent channel through which they can engage with audiences and potentially attract new customers. Furthermore, the artificial intelligence of chatbots will also make them capable of consuming enormous amounts of data that can be used in a variety of ways, increasing efficiency in the process.
The most important difference is the fact that chatbots are flexible enough to conform with the ways that users live their lives, rather than restricting them to the pre-programmed paths dictated within apps. As chatbots continue to develop, it is entirely possible that they will replace apps entirely, however, there are still plenty of questions to be asked. Some see the increased focus on chatbots as a transitional step in the process of redefining consumption and input as platforms shift towards more recent interfaces based around virtual and augmented reality.