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An app, a chatbot or both?

Go Mobile! This trend is relevant for every company. Customers expect to access products and services conveniently on their mobile devices.
Not so long ago, in practice, it meant that you were supposed to build a mobile app for your business, but now an alternative emerged.
Why should you consider building a chatbot? Let’s have a look.

At first, let’s check what is happening in the mobile app market.


The number of new-built apps increases (there are already over 2,8 million of them for iOS and more than 2,2 for Android), but not the number of used ones. Most users spend their mobile time in top five favorite apps. And one of them is messaging app. The number of new-built apps increases (there are already over 2,8 million of them for iOS and more than 2,2 for Android), but not the number of used ones. Most users spend their mobile time in top five favorite apps. And one of them is messaging app.


Source: flurrymobile.tumblr.com/post/157921590345/us-consumers-time-spent-on-mobile-crosses-5

Consider the number of Facebook Messenger downloads compared to other popular apps.

Source: www.statista.com/chart/5055/top-10-apps-in-the-world/

Can you be sure that a user will choose to download your app among more than 2 million available?


Advantages of chatbots


For users

1. Bots don’t need to be downloaded.

An app requires being found, downloaded and installed. It takes time, and the user at the moment is not even sure that the app will be helpful and provide necessary features. A chatbot can be easily added in messaging app and instantly used.

2. Bots don’t occupy space on the phone
Surely, the smartphones are constantly improving, but no memory will be enough to download all the apps we might need. Most of them are opened only one time and then abandoned. Chatbots don’t take up memory space and space on home screen.

3. Bots provide natural interaction
It is a natural step to add a chatbot, say, in Facebook Messenger or Kik, just like you add a new friend. It can be a very important advantage for small business. People are not going to download an app for their fitness club, beauty salon or local bar – but they will likely add their chatbots. For big companies, the interaction with chatbot makes people feel connected to the brand, creates the impression of personal attention, what is impossible in an app.


For business owners

1.Bots are cheaper and faster to build
If we consider an app and a bot with the similar functionality, building chatbot will be definitely cheaper and faster.
A simple bot development takes about one week and costs $500 and more.
An app can be build in about two months (but usually, at least four) and costs $2 000 and more.
Surely, the prices vary depending on the location of the software development company you hire.
Building both bots and apps in CIS countries is several times cheaper than in US or EU and the quality is likely to be the same.
Moreover, there are services where you can create a chatbot from the template on a subscription basis: it can be deployed in one day and the price starts from $10 per month.

2. Bot don’t need to be constantly updated, unlike apps.
Mobile apps need to be in line with operating system versions and recent design trends. Also, the bug fixing can take time. You should constantly update your app or it will stop running and disappoint users. Chatbots don’t need to be constantly elaborated after launch.

In the light of these and other factors, many experts prophesy that the chatbots will “kill” apps or, at least, 99% of them. Will it be so?


It’s a controversial question.


Why is there no single answer to it?

1. Different functionality
Chatbots – at the moment, at least – can not always provide all the features an app can provide. Also, there are features that can be provided in both of them but are better presented only in bots, or only in apps. For example, in Uber app, a customer can immediately see available cars nearby. Uber chatbot can not do that. In radio station apps, you can listen to their playlists and, at the same time, view their shows schedule, or even minimize an app and check your email, etc. In the chatbot, you can listen to music but there is no such freedom.
On the other hand, is we speak about Support Service, it is natural to use the chat. A chatbot can answer many questions, and escalate instantly to a human if it is necessary. Such convenient for the user and the business owner feature cannot be built into the app. Online shopping chatbot usually acts as a virtual assistant helping to find a particular thing, while there no such personification and engagement.
In many cases a chatbot and an app complement each other providing appropriate features.


H&M: Chatbot (left) offers to build an outfit, vote on outfits, and search. App (right) – perform multiple functions, but others than the bot, except the search.

2. Different interfaces
Chatbot interface includes graphic elements, but in a general is considered to be conversational.
That is also regarded an advantage of the bots.
First, regular human speech is the most natural way of interaction for people, and chatbots use it. That’s why chatbot interface is efficient and intuitively understandable for users, which is not always the case with graphic interface.
Second, chatbot interface is universal. When a customer installs a new app, he or she has to learn how to use it and what buttons to press. The designers do their best to make it user-friendly, but many people happen to abandon an app because they could not get used to the interface. Chatbots (at the moment, at least) are not that difficult, they all are similar.
In most cases, the conversational interface really has an advantage. You can just say to the bot what you want instead of using multiple filters in the app. Often, a chatbot plays the part of your dedicated shop assistant, as it was mentioned above. It helps to find a suitable item in a friendly conversation which is not available in the app.
Also, some interesting features can be added to the chatbot but not to the app. For example, eBay chatbot searches items by images, and eBay app cannot do that.



A chatbot helping to choose a fragrance and buy it on Amazon (left). An app of the perfume shop FragranceNet with search filters (middle). Perfume search in Amazon App. Bot gives an impression of personal approach.


eBay searches beads

On the other hand, when you build an app, it is easier to stand out among the competitors with the help of beautiful design.

Also, some things still are easier to do with graphic interface of apps.

Booking cinema tickets: Chatbot (left): you have to read the number of the seat and number of the row and type them. To order the second tickets you need to repeat the process. App (right): you can just tap suitable seats.


3. Message history
In a chatbot, you can return and read thread and choices made. For example, view products that matched search request but weren’t add to wish list. Sometimes it is useful. On the other hand, if you update content (updated items in stock) or make a redesign (like, changed some buttons) – the previous elements will still be available in the history which can be confusing for the user. For example, your customer recalls searching for headphones once. He returns in the thread and can immediately view ready results. It can encourage the client to make the postponed purchase. But if he taps the item and finds that it was sold out long ago, he will have to repeat the search.




What chatbot and what app?

1. Only the products of the same quality can be compared. Both chatbot and app can be useless if they are poorly made and tasted. Both of them can be made incomprehensible. When the hype around chatbots began, lots of them were made neglecting this rule. That’s why part of that new-born bots were unable to meet the users’ expectations and disappointing them. But low-quality apps disappoint users as well. Some authors say, that “chatbot is better than app”, and among other advantages point out that “apps have to be tested, refined” and it is too long and expensive. Yes, you can test a chatbot faster and cheaper than an app. But nevertheless, it needs testing.

2. When you order an app, you have to decide between iOS, Android or cross platform development. With chatbots, you choose between Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Viber, Slack, Skype, Kik, Line (that’s only key messaging platforms) or, also, make it cross platform. Surely, there are criteria to select what will best suit your business. Most of all it is influenced by the target audience geography.

3. You can add Natural Language Processing to your bot. It is the most intriguing aspect of chatbots and their biggest difference from apps. There are two ends: some chatbots desperately parse everything user inputs and others limit the user by several options presented by buttons. With the first type, there is a big risk that a customer will get an answer “Sorry, I don’t get you” to his or her question. Also, adding Natural Language Processing will increase the price. As always, there is a golden mean: for example, banking chatbots asks a user what he wants to do instead of offering him two dozens of options. And then it displays buttons with options considering the given problem. Online shopping chatbot performs search with the help of NLP. As a rule, a decent chatbot with NLP makes a pleasant impression of personal contact with a brand.


Chatbots with NLP/NLU

So what is better, a mobile app, a chatbot, or both?


Here is the answer.

If you are a young company, begin with a chatbot. It will make your business presence on mobile devices and solve a number of problems. It is highly probable that you won’t need any app at all.

If you are a big company, and you already have an app, it is all the more necessary to build a chatbot. It will help you to reach out more people and improve your presence in messaging apps. A chatbot is an important marketing channel, and it can’t be neglected. Such companies as eBay, Domino’s Pizza, Burberry use chatbots to interact with their customers. Also, if the experts who claim that apps will perish are right, you can secure your future by ordering chatbot right now.

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