Goodby apps, hello bots!

01st May 2016
Goodby apps, hello bots!

Chatbots, a combo of AI  and chat, are   about  to challenge  the mobile phone's reliance on apps
An IndiatechOnline special
Bangalore, May 2 2016: Try this experiment -- if you dare! Delete every app on your phone, and what do you have? A device that  can make and take calls and  text messages, something that  primitive handsets  were doing 15 years ago.  Apps are the oxygen of the  mobile phone  and contribute to 80% of its  functionality.

Yet there is something  called app-fatigue that many  users  are beginning to experience:  you need to  install a separate app for every utility or service. Pretty soon, you run out of onboard storage.  Drilling through an app to book a train ticket  or order a  Hyderabadi dum biriyani, involves  needlessly   repetitive steps. It can get painful.

Which is why the most anticipated   mobile tech trend of 2016 is an alternative to apps.  It's called the bot ( short for robot)  -- a software application  that automates  the tasks that you normally perform, from checking out a hotel room to reserving a seat in a multiplex.  The most popular avatar of the bot  is the chatbot which simulates natural conversation, chatting back and forth with you till your job is done.

The chatbot  is a combo of  two compelling technologies: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and  simple human conversation.  Mix  them up, stir well   -- and you can serve  a potent new tool  that mobile users  are lapping up wherever they  find it.  For starters, you don't need to download a fat app.  Want to order a pizza?  just go to the  pizza joint's site and  look for the chat box.  Type in ( or if you have a voice search tool, speak): 'Hi! Domino's , send me a  Paneer pizza with capsicum topping.'  The bot will complete the order, digging out your address and   billing info. It might  say ' We have a special offer for you!' and you can accept or pass.
The beauty of the latest developments is that you can soon do this from within your  messaging app -- Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat or whatever. 
Two global  tech biggies are determined that this will happen:

  •  In end-March, at the  Build developer's conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced a new bot framework and invited developers to create  bots that would serve as our personal assistants.  He opened up  the company's voice and video calling tool, Skype as the first maidan for third party bots, adding a new mantra: "Bots are the new apps!"
  • In mid April, at  Facebook's own developer Conference, F8,  CEO Mark Zuckerberg, announced  a very similar initiative: the addition of chatbots to Facebook Messenger  and the launch of a messaging  bot store  for developers to create and upload  their own bots.  FB Messenger's  900 million users plus  WhatsApp's  billion plus   add up to a 2 billion strong  market for  messaging bots  -- which  challenge   the app world dominated by Google Play  and  App Store.  None of this is altruism. For  Facebook and Microsoft, bots are the agni astra to create a new chat-based  mobile ecosystem that they can control and of course, make monetise.    2016  is being called  the Year of Conversational Commerce.

With  Internet giants deciding that bots are the next big  thing after the browser replaced the desktop as  the preferred platform of lay users, you can bet  the Great Bot Rush  has begun.

Durgesh Kaushik  who worked in  online marketing for Facebook before joining online education startup  Edureka  as Chief Marketing Officer,  gave me his personal take: "It's still very early days when it comes to AI enabled chatbots.  But since a behemoth like Facebook is focusing on them , we might soon see ourselves using themvery soon. I am really excited about the promise of messaging bots -- especially their ability to trawl hundreds of apps to give us  the best solution. This will solve the long standing problem of app discoverability, creating a win-win for both developers and consumers"

Google and Apple  may well decide that if you can't fight them, you might as well join them.  Then, we might  kiss our favourite apps goodbye and say  'hello'  to  a brave new, bot-filled world.
Indian innovation in VR:  Read our companion piece 
in the Image of the Day spot
.......And we have a short video on  Mark Zuckerberg
making the Facebook message bot announcement
in our Tech Video spot on the home page for a few days.