Can bots replace apps?
Bots are the new craze, but what does this mean for apps? With bots being touted as the future of commerce, some think that apps might soon become irrelevant. However, this is far from the only view: there is currently a heated debate about just how the potential competition between bots and apps will play out.
In the past few years, the number of apps has exploded. Its becoming harder and harder to keep track of so many apps, or to even switch between them as phone screen sizes get smaller and smaller. Now, however, there have been some great advances in chatbot technology. Jared Newman explains how the current generation of bots has benefited from big data, which gives them much larger samples of human language to learn from. Also, improved processing power has now given bots a much better ability to interpret natural language and learn from experiences with users. These improvements in artificial intelligence have paved the way for the messaging app to become the new platform that matters.
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Bots and apps turning into bots versus apps? Writing for Techcrunch.com, Beerud Sheth explains how messaging bots might very well replace apps. He cites the potential for bots to de-clutter our mobile experience, and the convenience bots offer since they reside in the cloud and update themselves automatically. Plus, bots can interact with each other to create chains of actions in sequence, or work in bot hierarchies where some bots supervise other bots. For Sheth, the general improvements he sees in the messaging platform indicate that it should replace the OS as the dominant platform people use, as shown in the illustration below.
David Marcus, head of Facebook Messenger, is one of those who feel that bots are an improvement in technology that could replace apps. He argues that “people don’t want apps for every single business that you interact with … just have a message within a nicely designed bubble … [and that’s a] much nicer experience than an app.” As bots improve their functioning and it becomes possible to connect smoothly with more and more businesses through them, apps may become obsolete. A single, user-friendly interface could be much more convenient than using a dozen different apps for our regular tasks.
There are definitely ways that bots can act as substitutes for apps for certain features. Karan Dave, writing for Peerbits.com, gives the example of how Uber has been a very successful ride-hailing app, but now, Facebook Messenger offers a feature where users can hail a cab or share a ride with just a couple of taps, right from within the chat box.
However, many also feel that apps aren’t done yet. According to WeChat’s Dan Grover, bots won’t replace apps— better apps will replace apps. He explains how some of the supposed benefits of bots are illusory. Specifically, he looks at the conversational interface, and shows how it might be getting more hype than it deserves. For example, ordering a pizza through Microsoft’s bot took him 73 taps, versus just 16 taps using the Pizza Hut app. Basically, since the bot engages in a “conversation” with users, it requires much more user input to actually make an order. And if the communication with a chatbot is done by voice, it would take even longer for an automated chatbot voice to read off the different ordering options in a conversational tone.
Grover argues that communication with bots will never be a real conversation, and it is less efficient to try to use conversations to complete many tasks. According to him, this is just one reason the app format will stay around. For Grover, bots can be helpful, but they will probably serve to augment the user experience of apps, rather than replace apps. He argues that app designers need to step things up and keep offering improvements, and that phone operating systems also need some big advances if apps are to stay relevant.
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