Narrative: Apps Are Dying
Each narrative page (like this) has a page describing and evaluating the narrative, followed by all the posts on the site tagged with that narrative. Scroll down beyond the introduction to see the posts.
Narrative: Apps Are Dying (Jan 24, 2017)
This content is restricted to paid subscribers to the Tech Narratives service. You can sign up on this page for a 30-day free trial, which will give you access to all the content on the site including the daily comments, narrative essays, subscriber forums, and other restricted features. If you’re already a subscriber, you can sign in using the link below.Sign in
Also today at F8, Facebook overhauled its Messenger Platform, which launched last year, and went as far as to call it Messenger Platform 2.0. That kind of separation from the version launched a year ago is smart, because the first round was ill thought out, with the vision for bots both too expansive and not nearly detailed enough. In the year since, Facebook has made a lot of progress, and the version of bots it now offers to developers is much more compelling and better suited to the kinds of things it will be used for. Facebook is also getting better at serving small and medium sized businesses, which continue to make up an enormous chunk of the total base of businesses in many markets. That’s important because these businesses represent the biggest future opportunity for Facebook advertising, which is already well penetrated among larger enterprises. I’m still skeptical that bots have broad appeal beyond a few specific categories, but it’s starting to look like Facebook has cracked at least some of what it will take for bots to be successful in those categories where they do make sense. And it’s less religious about bots as full-fledged experiences now, too, which means that other flavors of automated, semi-automated, and human-driven interactions can live side by side more seamlessly, which is smart.
This change was reported by The Information a while back but has now been confirmed by Facebook: the M hybrid human-virtual assistant Facebook was testing last year has now been released in a much reduced and entirely AI-based role inside of Messenger. That makes a ton of sense and it sounds like Facebook has been successfully testing this feature for a while with positive user response. The only worry I’d have is that it could be seen as invasive or intrusive, both in the sense of invading users’ conversations uninvited and in the sense that it will appear to be “listening” to users’ conversations for key words and phrases that will trigger that intervention. Privacy isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing – everyone has their own preferences and tolerances for the tradeoffs online services can sometimes entail – so I’d expect to see a range of reactions from delight to outrage.
via The Verge
Facebook will launch group chatbots at F8 – TechCrunch (Mar 29, 2017)
This is yet another sign that Facebook feels its initial bot strategy from last year isn’t panning out (something I predicted at the time) and that it needs to try alternative approaches. It’s iterated fairly rapidly since then and added some functions to make interacting with bots easier, and it now sounds like it’s trying another different tack, allowing developers to integrate bots into group conversations. But those bots won’t be interactive AI-type creatures, but instead will provide updates on events or processes, such as sporting matches or food orders. Like earlier pivots, this seems more modest in its ambitions but also more likely to be successful. But Facebook’s direction here stands in marked contrast to Microsoft’s, which continues to work on AI-based chatbots.
This App Annie analysis is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it’s one of the first times I’ve seen anyone attempt to quantify the whole Android app ecosystem including the third party app stores, which are a factor globally but particularly important in markets like China, where Google Play basically doesn’t exist. That provides a much better view of the whole ecosystem, but of course Google only benefits directly from the part it controls, which is Play. Secondly, though, the forecast that this ecosystem combined will surpass Apple’s app ecosystem by the end of the year is striking because the Android user base has been much larger than the iOS user base for years, and only now is the app ecosystem (on this more inclusive basis) starting to rival Apple’s. That, in turn, is a symptom of just how completely Apple has dominated the premium users within the smartphone market, those who are more likely to pay for content and apps. But all of this is also a great refutation of the idea that apps are somehow dying or about to be replaced with something else – the sheer growth numbers here are astonishing.
Apple’s App Store Gets a Makeover – Bloomberg (Mar 21, 2017)
The headline makes it sound like there are changes coming to the App Store, but this story is really about all the changes that have already happened on the App Store since Phil Schiller took it over from Eddy Cue a little over a year ago. One of the notable things in the story is the impact that better analytics have had, and how that’s made it easier for more dynamic developers to update their apps more frequently in response to user behavior. More generally, though, the article suggests that big strides have been made in the way the App Store runs from a developer perspective, which is a story that hasn’t been told much. It’s been subtle, and if you’re just a user you might not be aware of most of these changes, but better experiences for developers make for better end user experiences too. I know there are still lots of developers, especially Mac-centric developers, who have complaints they feel have gone unheeded, but Apple has at least made some progress in fixing big pain points on the iOS side.
When Facebook and Microsoft first launched their respective chat bot strategies just under a year ago, I was skeptical – I argued that chat bots have very limited applicability and were ill-suited to the kind of broad app-replacement approach both companies were pushing. What we’ve seen since is a continued re-thinking of Facebook’s vision for bots, which has steadily pushed it in the direction of becoming very similar to interaction mechanisms we already have, whether in apps or mobile websites. As such, the unique value of a messenger-based interface is being eroded almost to zero, and the whole value proposition is being undermined. I don’t think this is the wrong way to go, necessarily – there will still be some interactions for which an app or site-like interface within messaging has some value – but this is further evidence that the original vision for chat bots in messaging apps was overblown. And of course that the idea that these bots would replace apps in a broad way was overblown too.