Despite the fact that typing on mobile phone is cumbersome, messaging has been around for many years and in fact messaging is going through a surge of innovation. How come?
There are plenty of reasons on why messaging is still in use. The most important one is its asynchronous nature: unlike phone calls and video chats parties don’t need to be available at the same time yet conversation flows along at a decent pace. Another reason is (because typing in mobile is hard) people forgo the formalities and jump right into the main points with in a informal way and no one is surprised or offended about it. And last but not least now that our phones are with us all the time so is messaging. Through time messaging has become much more expressive. It has evolved from sending and receiving SMS only to rich messages with pictures, stickers, videos and audio files. We can now express ourselves with more nuances in short bursts and binges through chats.
In fact recently I’ve come across many blog posts and news article which makes me certain that messaging apps are the next big channel in reaching out to customers in a direct, casual way to start a conversation and provide services within the conversation itself.
Products like Google Now and Siri has primed us to become more comfortable receiving help from non-human (Artificial Intelligence algorithms, bots etc). There are now many next generation messaging apps blurring the line between AI and actual human by taking on the role of a personal coach or as a virtual assistant who get tasks done.
Apps like Lark and Vida act as your personal health coach where you report back on what you ate, your work-out routine and other thing and your coach advise you how to stay on track to achieve your weight-loss/health goal. On the other category, Native works as your virtual travel agent who finds the best the itinerary and purchases it for you. There is Magic taking on a role of a task runner getting you errands from mundane (grocery shopping, food) to exotic (medicinal marijuna! according to this article). All you need to do is to start a conversation and ask for things/services. And there are many more.
Finally there are weird apps like Invisible Girlfriend and Invisible Boyfriend where you fabricate an imaginary girlfriend/boyfriend in case you’re tired of being judged for being single!! It certainly wouldn’t be my way of tackling the problem but it sure is an interesting service!
All above apps exists in addition to staggering number of messaging apps such as Facebook Messanger, WhatsApp, Line, Kik, Snapchat, Hangout etc that are all competing to capture users conversations with friends and family within their framework. All of this means one thing to me: Consolidation.
It just makes sense to have a few messaging apps where not only you can have a rich conversation with your friends and family but also you can use them as your virtual assistant to get things done. This phenomena has happened in china where WeChat is the messaging app for millions not only to chat with each other but to interact with business to order food, arrange lifts or send and receive money.
The biggest contender for consolidation is Messenger app (by Facebook) with well over 700+ million users and growing. This article explained the reasons on why Facebook account is no longer required for accessing Messenger. Essentially, Facebook realized not everyone wants a social network or News Feed, but everybody wants chats. Messenger is getting a boost from new features such as send and receive money to friends, search and add GIF to keep users within Messenger and off of other competitors. And I wont be surprised if it builds or buys any assistant-as-App type of services within Messenger.
For me part of the appeal of SMS was its access regardless of your phone, career or apps you have on the phone, the fact that it didn’t belong to anyone. I really am not comfortable to have Facebook Messenger app as my go-to-app (their past history with Privacy and Term of Use is not exactly stellar, you know?). It would be ideal if we could have a choice of on messaging apps but somehow all updates show up in a central place like notifications bars on the phone and we have access to chat history regardless of the app. One can only wish but until then I think we’re heading toward a burst of messaging apps and their eventual consolidations.
PS: The inspiration for this post came from a recent blog posts on Nir and Far blog which got me introduced to “Assistant-as-App” phenomena as well as posts from Intercom on future of messaging and finally multiple interesting news on TechCrunch and Wired.