Like all good IT terms, Chatbots is something that seemed to just come out of nowhere. If you haven't heard about Chatbots yet, you're going to soon enough. Chatbots are going to be the next big thing and are set to rule your lives whether you like it or not. But what exactly are they and why should you be excited or even care?
To figure out why Chatbots have become front and center you probably first need to take a look at the current state of play in tech and specifically in the mobile app space.
Mobile apps came to prominence with Apples app store way back when the iPhone was launched. Apple decided to come up with a space where they could group all their phone specific applications together and make available to their user base. They defined apps as being small software applications that ran on the iPhone. They provided a development environment to build these apps on, and provided an integrated market place on the phone for development companies to easily make their new apps instantly available to all iPhone users. Instead of charging $30 or more for a piece of software, apps would be charged in cents or even made free with built in advertising for companies to make a buck. This made apps purchases a no brainer for consumers, and apple tagged the famous, "there's an app for that" in their marketing campaigns basically telling us all that no matter what we wanted to do we could now do it through our iPhones.
Apple got a great head start on its competitors but before long others started joining the party, in particular Google on their mobile Android platform. App stores became massive. Both Apple and Google now have in excess of 1 million apps in their respective stores. There's literally now, an app for everything.
So this is all fine and dandy. A new software delivery and consumption platform was built. Companies loved it as it gave their products a massive user base. Consumers loved it because they were getting useful (sometimes) software and games for dirt cheap. Software was now something that cost cents not hundreds of dollars.
As the years progressed though, something started to happen. People started to become app weary. in fact this is a relatively new phenomenon. We've only really started seeing it in the past couple of years. The problem literally revloves around Apples key marketing slogan, "there's an app for that". There's an app for everything! In fact there are probably 10 apps for everything! Now phone users have hundreds of apps on their phones. In the good old days you might just have iTunes for managing your music. Now you have iTunes, Google play, Spotify and even You Tube all vying to do the same thing. Hundreds of different apps, hundreds of different user interfaces to know. People have App fatigue.
The stage is now perfectly set for a new technology revolution. Something to address this app deluge. That new technology is here now and it's name is 'Chatbots'
What Chatbots promises is a world where you don't need all these apps. You just need to tell your phone what you want and it will take care of it. The Chatbot sits there on your phone, listens to what you want and then it decides how to fulfil your request without you knowing the details.
Let’s look at an example:
In a Chatbot future, I tell my phone, "Hi phone. I've got a dinner in Mary's apartment next Thursday at 7.30pm. I'll need a nice bottle of wine to go with a lamb dish." Your phone then does a number of things based on this statement. First it puts the date in your diary. Next it goes to an online Wine service, to get a top recommendation of a wine that goes with lamb. Next it goes to a Yelp like service to figure out where along the route between your house and Mary's apartment you can get the bottle of wine from. Finally it contacts Uber to book a taxi for 7pm and informs it to make a stop off at the store for the wine, and then continue to your final destination. No apps were used in the execution of this, or at least the user didn't see them. In the ‘good old days’ (aka NOW) I'd have had to use at least four different apps with four different user interfaces to complete this. In the Chatbot world, it was all done in the length of time it takes for me to tell the phone what I want.
This is exciting stuff. It's Star Trek stuff. But it's happening now. And it's going to hit us quicker than you can possibly imagine. Big companies like Microsoft, Google and Facebook are betting BIG bucks on this, and when you sit down and actually think about it, it makes such good sense. It's a tech we all actually really really want but probably haven't thought about it yet.
At Sulware we're looking at this and what it means for us moving forward. For SME companies like Sulware what Chatbots mean is focusing development effort on the services that underpin the apps our customers want and getting them ready to communicate with the Chatbots that are steaming down the line. It takes the focus off user interface development and pushes the actual underlying service into the spotlight. In maybe as short as 5 years time, companies will no longer be writing apps as we know them, and your phone is going to look and work a lot differently. I believe we're truly at the start of the next technological Tsunami. It’s very exciting, in a geeky type of way.
Apps are dead, long live Chatbots!