Are chatbots the new apps?

Hipmunk Chatbot. Image Credits: Paul Sawers / VentureBeat

If you uasually follow tech news, probabIy you came across with headlines stating that “chatbots are the new apps”, “chatbots are replacing apps” or “chatbots will soon kill the app store”.

This is based on the idea that the effort required to install a new app isn’t worth the download anymore and users prefer to integrate the services into an app they already use, like a messaging app, instead of downloading another app. But is this really what’s happening?

The case against apps

It’s not easy to compare bots and apps, but isn’t difficult to see many cases where chatbots overcome mobile apps. Chatbots available through messaging apps don’t require an installation, they are easier to build than an app and they cover more use-cases. On top of this, messaging has a really big market penetration and the conversation is made in a natural way. On the contrary, every app has its own user interface and rules.

Despite the fact that the average smartphone owner use 27 apps on their phone per month, daily usage shows that 72% of people use less than 7 apps per day. Is difficult to push consumers to use a new application and the average app loses more than 75% of its users after one day.

“Over 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed. Within a couple of years that will reach 3.6 billion, about half of humanity.” — The Economist

We also know that the top four messaging apps (Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat and Viber) have more monthly active users than the top four social networking apps (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+). If users are using messaging apps, is then natural for brands and services to be present where users are.

Why chatbots?

Conversation is the most natural way of communication since the beginning of human history and messaging apps just happen to be the most recent way to do it. Nowadays, using messaging apps is becoming so natural that even the least tech persons are masters at chatting.

Chatbots’ ability to parse language understanding users’ intent, being always aware of the user context means we can now create much more meaningful and personalized experiences.

Bots are easy to install, simple to authenticate, the interface is already known and they occupy less size than an app. When a bot doesn’t know what to answer he can always let a human agent lead the conversation.

But is it really the end of mobile apps?

So, isn’t it obvious that chatbots are going to be the interface of choice on our mobile devices? Not so fast, as mobile apps have their own advantages and many use-cases are too complex to be replaced by bots.

Apps won’t be going away anytime soon but many things will move to a chatbot interface using natural human language. For most of what we do on our mobile devices, the chat interface is the ideal medium.

The decision of whether to use an app or a chatbot will be left to consumers, but bots will take away many redundant processes in apps. Bots won’t replace apps, but they will bring better experiences and make us use fewer apps.

NB: This is a viewpoint by Pedro Gonçalves, co-founder at HiJiffy.

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