Recently, there has been a lot of talk about chatbots replacing mobile and web apps. Many technology experts believe that bots are going to replace apps. And these observations aren’t baseless, the rise in the use of bots is increasing constantly and a lot of developers are working on reproducing the apps into chatbot interfaces.
I believe that the consumer market is a good indication of which one will dominate the enterprise market. An example of this is Facebook Messenger. Messenger has a user base of 1.3 Billion, out of which 80 Million are daily active users. Facebook released the chatbot support in messenger in 2016 and since then, users are not only chatting with their family and contacts but also with bots. This chatbot will help you decide what to wear, what to order and answer your Game of Thrones questions. There are even custom bots released for Facebook pages. So, this chatbot market is only growing.
“Conversation UI” is considered as the next big thing that will dominate consumer technology. Wired, in 2013, wrote that conversations are much more effective than traditional GUIs(Graphical User Interfaces). And after just 7 years, we see that it has become a reality. Chatbots like Alexa and Siri are examples of advancements being made to bring CUI into everyday use, not to mention the chatbots within apps, such as bots for answering questions on platforms like Slack.
So, does all this advancement and growing use of chatbots mean they are going to replace the traditional apps? Let’s take a look:
The Rise of Bots
Various researches(such as this one from Gartner) have been conducted that report that app users get app-fatigued and avoid downloading and using additional apps. After years of downloading and using apps on their smartphones, app adoption is maturing. Some observers say that due to this app fatigue and people sticking to only a handful of apps, users will benefit from a more unified interface.
This unified interface can be developed with bots by packing all the app data into a single messaging app where a bot is designed to offer all of the services. It has been shown that chatbots perform faster than mobile apps and take up less space on smartphone devices. They also give users a personalized experience by being human-like conversational and responding to requests. Chatbot enthusiasts say that bots enhance their user experience by decluttering mobile apps and show only messages when you need to respond to something, rather than giving you a notification for every small detail and demanding that you check them.
Other than researchers and bot enthusiasts, there are technology observers who advocate for the idea of chatbots being the future and replacing apps. Some of the explanations they say are:
- Intuitive and easy to understand use, as compared to apps
- Simple and consistent user interface
- Provides personalized experience and human-like voice interaction
- Remember user’s previous choices and history
- Proactively engaging for users
So does all this buzz mean that chatbots are sure to take over from apps?
Will Bots Replace Apps?
A primary thing to remember is why do we use apps or bots? Because we want it to do some work for us. Apps and bots are designed to solve problems for their users and the better they are at doing their job, the more successful they are. We select an app or a bot based on the problem to be solved. Just because bots are good in some areas and are trending doesn’t mean they’ll take over all of the app market. Dan Drover is an expert in the field of bots development. In his experience over developing and testing chatbots, some bots take far more inputs and time when doing a job, as compared to mobile and web apps.
Humans are visual creatures and chatbots aren’t a good replacement for visual user interfaces. For example, if you were to order a pizza, it would be much more quick to read over the visual menu and decide what to order rather than if the bot were to either read all of the options to you or ask you a lot of questions before giving you some recommendations. If you think about how you use some apps to get a job done and would you be satisfied if all of these apps were replaced with bots, your answer will probably be no! Tasks like photo editing, viewing your schedule and going through Facebook newsfeed are all visual tasks and bots will not do a good job.
While there has been a lot of advancements in the chatbot industry and bots are proving to be valuable in getting some tasks done, they aren’t satisfactory enough to solve every problem that an app can. Chatbot development has been going on for years and the chatbot technology is advancing, but it still has a long way to go before providing the seamless experience that most dream about.