The rise of chatbots is undeniable. Seemingly every week, a major digital corporation develops a new version of automated software designed to help users find the information they need quickly and conveniently.

Chatbots work across platforms, and are often part of larger platforms, such as Facebook messenger, increasing their reach. But they’re also posing a significant danger to what we’ve come to know as the pre-eminent way of communicating with your audience on mobile devices: native apps.

Today, these apps dominate mobile device usage; in fact, 90% of time spent on mobile devices now occurs on native apps. Technically, that number isn’t expected to go down in the near future – chatbots run on apps, after all – but many marketers are beginning to worry that chatbots could significantly minimize the effect proprietary apps can have on their audience.

How much validity can we ascribe to that worry, and how can you adjust your mobile application development to succeed even in the coming chatbot world? That’s what this post will examine in more detail.

The Emergence of Chatbots

Just a few years ago, chatbots weren’t even on the radar for most people. Today, as machine learning has continued to climb to new heights, many digital thought leaders see them as the next wave of communicating with consumers.

Here’s how The Guardian describes the technology:

Chat bots are computer programs that mimic conversation with people using artificial intelligence. They can transform the way you interact with the internet from a series of self-initiated tasks to a quasi-conversation.

Because of their human-like interaction ability, chatbots have a clear-cut advantage over native apps, which remain largely one-way communication tools. Because they run on more general platforms, they also allow users to stay up to date with multiple interests without having to switch between apps.

As a result, they are a direct threat to these apps, as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg described to the Wall Street Journal:

No one wants to have to install a new app for every business or service that they want to interact with. We think that you should just be able to message a business in the same way that you message a friend.

Mobile App Development in the Chatbot World

However, this threat does not mean you should stop thinking about your mobile app as a valid tool to communicate with your audience. In fact, you can take several steps to ensure that your application remains valuable to consumers, even as chatbots are gaining in popularity:

  1. Provide Unexpected Content. Above all, chatbots are query-based. They only respond to specific prompts, making them great for functional conversations and transactions. But what they cannot do is provide their audience with content they may not know they want. Your app can take advantage of that by giving its users valuable, unexpected content (push notification sales offers, for example).
  2. Allow for Query Systems. At the same time, the rise of chatbots shows that we are increasingly becoming a query-based internet society. When we have a question, we type it into Google or ask Siri. Not allowing for similar capabilities, even if it’s through a simple search function, can be detrimental to your app’s success if your customers expect it.
  3. Maximize Your Visuals. We are and remain to be a visual society. Studies have found that visual content increases the likelihood of audience recall by 600%, which makes sense given that we’ve discovered 90% of the information transmitted to our brains is visual. Chatbots are usually text-based, so focusing on the visuals within your app can play a significant role in helping it remain relevant over time.

In short, chatbots are coming – but if you design your app just right, you need not worry about their impact for your business. To learn more about mobile app development for 2016 and beyond, contact us.

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