The Apps of Tomorrow Will Be Inside of the Apps of Today
The app market is crowded. That’s no news to anyone. As of a year ago, there were 1.5M apps in the Apple app store and 1.6M apps in the Google Play Store (according to Statista.) Getting an app made has become increasingly easy over time, though with that the challenge of actually getting an app onto someone’s phone has increased. According to eMarketer, roughly half of US smartphone app users only use 1-5 apps per week (as of December 2015.)
As the titans of the app world - Snapchat, Uber, Instagram, etc. - post user base figures in the hundreds of millions, one can only assume that these are the handful of apps that half of the population are using on a weekly basis. What happens when competition continues to strengthen? Newer social apps will find it challenging to gather a strong user base and in turn, the titans will continue to grow as users flock to the apps that can entertain newcomers upon arrival. User bases in the hundreds of millions will become user bases of billions. The result: new companies will begin to create experiences within the titans that exist today. How? With chatbots.
Pretend we’re about five years down the road and I’ve created a service for on-demand office cleaning. Instead of creating an app and spending massive amounts of my precious startup cash on marketing in an attempt to get onto the phones of millions, I look to different ways of getting my service out there. Maybe I find a way to skip the whole navigating through the crowd part and get onto an app that is already on the phones or computers of millions, in offices around the world. I know there’s one. Hmm. Slack! I turn my on-demand office cleaning into a chatbot for Slack so whenever someone needs their office cleaned, all they have to do is type out “I need my office cleaned” and then a cleaner (a human for now) heads on over. Down the line, as AI improves and the chatbot learns my office cleaning habits, “I need my office cleaned” will become “Do you need your office cleaned?”
This is what we’re moving towards. Companies such as Slack and Facebook have already opened their doors for 3rd party created bots to enter. Others are following suit. TechCrunch has just recently called this “The Future of Customer Service.” VentureBeat states that it’s a “200 Billion Dollar Chatbot Disruption.” Botlist, an app store for bots, was created just a few months ago. The term ‘chat bot’ has skyrocketed in use in the first five months of 2016 according to CB Insights. The bots are not coming. The bots have arrived.
Should we be scared? Maybe. This does sound like the start of an apocalyptic sci-fi movie. Though, I prefer to be excited about it all. Bots will revolutionize the way in which businesses and customers interact with each other. Waiting hours for unhelpful customer support will be a thing of the past. In the long run, bots/AI will be the future of all human-computer interaction. Today, we talk to computers through clicks and swipes. Tomorrow, we will talk to computers the same way that we talk to each other - with hellos and goodbyes (and hopefully still pleases and thank-yous (just because it’s a robot doesn’t mean that you should forget your manners!)
So, what does this all mean for the entrepreneur or the app developer? If you’re in the social space, consider how you can add chat to your roadmap and focus on acquiring as many users as you can as quickly as possible. Those that create the bots will be powerful. Though, the apps that house the bots will become essential. If you’re in the service space, think about the different ways to get your app in the hands of users. Find out where your customers are and discover what makes the most sense. Do you need a standalone app? Does a bot make sense? Who knows what exactly the future holds so make sure you’re prepared for all possibilities. Will bots prevail and become all that they’re touted to be? In 10 years, will the ‘bot store’ be crowded with bots, similar to the app store today? Will ordering a sandwich be as easy as typing out or saying “Can I have a turkey sandwich, please?” on Snapchat? We’ll see.