What is the future of the web interface?
Quite a difficult question you might think, and you’d be right, but there are changes happening right now that may give us some clues to what future web interfaces might look (or sound) like.
Growth of the smart speaker
The obvious change during the last 18 months has been the arrival of smart speakers into millions of homes and businesses. The big four tech giants have all brought new devices to market and the competition between them is fierce in this high growth area. One reason this is such an important battle ground is the interface. AI powered voice interfaces are frictionless compared to the traditional web site that requires usernames, passwords, clicks, and keyboards. This means greater usage and more revenue potential for the platform. An NPR and Edison Research study showed that 65 percent of those surveyed said they wouldn’t want to go back to a life without these devices. I have one myself and I know it’s quicker and easier to check train times and possible delays using simple voice commands than firing up a website or app to type in station names and search. What could have been a passing fad is now becoming part of the modern home thanks to smart home device integrations with heating and lighting and huge investments from some of the biggest and smartest companies on the planet.
The depth and wealth of ‘skills’ that these digital assistants are acquiring and now capable of is also impressive. This is shifting usage of increasingly complex tasks from websites to voice activated digital assistants. These skills are going to improve over the next few years and become increasingly more intelligent and sophisticated. Tasks such as banking, travel booking, investment advice, and business network integration will advance these smart devices beyond simple weather and traffic reports. All this time, it will be the voice interface, backed up by apps for visualisation, that will see growth beyond traditional on-screen interfaces.
Are we reaching app overload? Are people getting tired of having so many apps to manage multiple individual tasks? With so many accounts and passwords to manage, so many websites and apps to visit, are we approaching the end of the traditional ‘app’ experience? According to website statistica.com, Between the Apple and the Google app stores, there are over 5.8m apps available. How on earth do you get your app noticed and downloaded amongst all that noise? It’s becoming increasingly harder and more costly in terms of advertising for the traditional app to get downloads. Could a combination approach to application interfaces become a better way to engage with users?
Rise of the bots
Advances in AI and Machine Learning are resulting in an explosion of chat bots available for a variety of platforms and applications. Platforms such as Facebook Messenger and Slack (and now WhatsApp), and not forgetting the voice activated devices, are not only being used to launch new conversational based applications, but also to supplement existing traditional web applications with an additional layer for users to interact with. Many focus on customer support with a basic ability to answer simple questions, but more interesting uses of chatbots allow users to interact with them as part of the application itself. This combination approach not only leads to greater user engagement, but also more time spent on the application itself, something that can result in higher revenue potential and lower subscriber churn. A good example of this combination approach is Cleo, the banking analysis app that runs on FaceBook Messenger and at meetcleo.com. Facebook Messenger is limited to text, audio, and jpegs, so for additional and richer content you can combine it with their online dashboard site.
Open Banking and a growing number of financial data integration services such as Yodlee, are opening up a new wave of personal finance bot based services that will take traffic away from traditional ‘apps’. Users will find them across all their chat platforms and on all their smart speaker devices. Digital voice assistants are now even part of the operating system with Cortana from Microsoft and Siri from Apple. Expect bot overload during the coming years.
So, no more web app as we know it?
I think the traditional visual only web and mobile app still have plenty of mileage left in them. At the same time however, I think a very high percentage of new apps to the market will be utilising multiple interface types to ensure their user base is as engaged as possible. Why would you not want to add an ‘intelligent’ layer to your service that can interact with users in real time to help shortcut tasks and stay with them on any device? The process of creating such bots and services is becoming easier too. More and more bot creation platforms are available such as activechat.ai that allow you to quickly create the intents and dialog so your bot understands what users are asking for and how to respond and what commands to initiate.
The web interface has always been a very dynamic place, but it’s always been a visual medium. It’s now gaining intelligence, listening to you, and starting to answer back!