Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, stated that “Bots are the new apps” when giving his keynote at the Microsoft developer conference earlier this year.
Bots have been around for a long time and we use them every day actually. Search engines can be considered a type of bot that returns information from the web when we ask it questions. Also any virtual assistant you may interact with like Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, Amazon Alexa and the Google assistant are advanced versions of bots that are able to understand more complex requests.
Lets look at definitions:
From Wikipedia: An Internet bot, also known as web robot, WWW robot or simply bot, is a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone.
From Wikipedia: Chatbot may mean: Chatterbot, a chatter robot is a type of conversational agent, a computer program designed to simulate an intelligent conversation with one or more human users via auditory or textual methods.
Simply put, a bot is software able to compute data that allows for the retrieval of information. Well that’s my definition at least for now…the techies can probably give you a range of more sophisticated descriptions of what any specific bot maybe.
The question now is: How fast can it compute the data needed to understand people? Well with our lives becoming ever more digital, the data becoming available, computational power and cloud storage becoming unlimited, and artificial intelligence advancing rapidly the answer to this question could be: Very fast. Conversational fast.
Remember that annoying paper clip virtual assistant in Microsoft word so long ago? Well that was probably Microsoft’s first public bot. But it was not very smart. Today and in recent years, bots have been getting smarter with the help of machine learning and artificial intelligence and of course, messenger chat allowing for data collection to make the bots smarter.
Interestingly, brands are starting to use them with success. They allow for communication at scale in a growing social landscape where the consumer has every more questions and even less patience. Bots in the form of chatbots allow for proactive and streamlined interactions with people through messenger chat. A bot is a new type of user interface that is able to retrieve and present data in the form of content, products and even task automation.
Could bots become the new apps and websites we have known over the past 2 decades?
I do not see this happening any time soon, but what I do see is a direct consumer channel to information. The user just asks a question, and the bot or chatbot return the answer. Is this not similar to the behavior of going to google.com to ask a question and being presented 10 results and a whole bunch of ads? Except for the ads and 9 results that failed, a bot could return the one result that is the one you wanted, without a never ending sea of choice, no ads, no webpages to battle through, no browser tracking, no slow loading websites. You simply get that one peace of information you were looking for.
Smart artificially enhanced chatbots may for fill this dream in the years to come. I expect for this to take a few years before it really gets useful and maybe 5-6 years before it is widely adopted. But this is very fast in the grand scheme of things. I means we have been seeing websites evolve from desktop to mobile to apps over the past 20 years and now we may see websites and apps acting as document repositories that deliver information of any kind to wherever the user is.
You will simply talk to your smartphone and your virtual assistant, which is a very smart bot that knows a lot about you, will call on the appropriate location to retrieve data regardless of if its a website or app, and serve it up to you as a voice message or visual display within a messenger or app or just perform the task for you or cast to another device or screen if that is what you wish. Its not that far fetched, many of these things are possible today if you think about it.
Over the coming years we will see bots and chatbots explode in volume and usage. There will be smart sophisticated bots in the form of virtual assistants and very dumb bots that will only be able to perform one task, and maybe not even that well.
The rapid growth of messenger platforms over recent years is certainly having a huge effect on the development of bots and chatbots as they provide the infrastructure for delivering a bot-like interface.
Facebook opened its Messenger platform to developers at its F8 developer conference earlier this year allowing brands to build and deploy bots on the platform to reach their customers through messenger chat. You can ask just about anything to the appropriate bot like ordering a pizza, confirming a flight reservation, calling a boarding pass or asking for the weather. Kik is also a messenger type app with its own bot store, with now over 30,000 bots from many known and unknown brands.
Ted Livingston told users at the recent Web Summit 2016 that in China there are more bots launched on TenCent’s WeChat every day than websites added to the Internet. In other words, according to Livingston, “WeChat is the Internet” in China.
We may start seeing consumers in the not so distant future ordering products and consuming content they would now go to a website or app for directly from their messenger chat interface.
This could mark a new paradigm shift in conversational commerce.
It does not take much to realize that this could work and for-fill the needs of many consumers. Ordering tickets, books, flights, hotels, uber, movies, and just about anything could be done from messenger with the help of bots. But also a direct brand to consumer channel. Allowing you to service the customer directly and at scale.
Can you now understand Satya Nadella’s statement of why bots may in fact be the new apps? And to add to this even the new websites? In time… they will not replace these completely, but instead provide a conduit to accessing the information housed in apps and websites and removing our need for us to visit them entirely unless the bot is not able to for-fill our request. Then we navigate over to the app or website to do what we need to do.
Also, native apps are a pain to submit, rank and maintain in an app store. Three quarters of American smartphone users download zero apps per month. Also, research suggests that users only use 3–4 apps on a regular basis. Acquiring and retaining users on your app is also incredibly difficult.
Bots however allow for friction-less interaction with consumers and only require the consumer to connect with the bot as you would a friend and call them with a simple @ sign. If people catch-on and have great experiences the viral potential is enormous as users simply text the experience to their friends. Peer-to-peer word of mouth sharing is highly viral in nature.
Further, the number of mobile messaging app users is forecasted to nearly double by 2019 projected the total number of people regularly using messaging apps to 2.19 billion. Although I think this is under-estimated. It will be more.