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Are we reaching the end of the app era?

by Clarissa Bardelli
19 Apr 2017
7 min read
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Are we reaching the end of the app era?

Well maybe not tomorrow, or even within the next month, but I’m pretty sure, in no time at all, using apps will be a thing of the past. You may be thinking I’m about to praise the all cool and on trend chatbot, guess what, I’m not. Although they are definitely the hot topic at the moment, I want to go one step further and call out Intelligent Personal Assistants (IPA) or as you and I know them, Virtual Assistants.

Remember Siri? Siri is Apple’s answer to the Virtual Assistant and for Google its Google Assistant (Google Now), and there are loads more, Amazon has Alexa, Microsoft has Cortana, Facebook has M, Samsung has Otto and then there’s Viv – a self-learning, dynamic AI that can rewrite its code in a matter of seconds. Virtual Assistants are essentially voice powered Artificial Intelligence (AI). They are clever pieces of code that help you get things done, quickly and easily, with just the sound of your voice. The best part is that they grow more efficient over time by learning from your behaviour, to the point where you no longer need to use an app, tap a screen or search around on Google, you will simply be able to ask your phone.

Beyond touch

I’m practically convinced that your smartphone interactions will soon be dominated by conversations rather than clicks. Yep, that’s right. You’ll be talking to your phone, as if it were a person, your digital BFF, that is of course, if you are not already!

So why do I believe everything is going in this direction? Well, for starters, this technology is already available, and it’s very likely you’re already using it. Today your Virtual Assistant can give you directions, find land marks, tell you what the weather is doing, send messages, and (my personal favourite) book an Uber.

Book an Uber: Once you’ve enabled the Uber app to talk with Siri, it will ask you what type of ride you want (UberX, UberBlack, Taxi etc) and then it brings up an Apple Map widget showing you the closest car, estimated cost and ETA. All you have to do is confirm and voila, you’re Uber is on its way. 

It’s fair to say, that reducing the number of steps taken to complete an action on mobile is a big winner for everyone.

The second reason I believe Virtual Assistants are taking over (think less iRobot and more Bicentennial Man) is because they’re getting smarter. For example, the co-founders of Siri have been working on a self-learning Virtual Assistant. Meet Viv, Viv is the first of its kind. In a mere fraction of a section, Viv can take a complicated search request, parse  the sentence (break data into smaller elements for easy translation into another language) and automatically link third-party sources of information to deliver you the most accurate answer. Here’s how

For those who are interested, we’d recommend checking out the Viv demo.

Okay. So these Virtual Assistants are answering my questions, helping me do things and are now learning from my behaviour. So where to next and when will we no longer need to interact directly with apps? My guess is pretty soon. We’re already moving into a space that is beyond touch, and into voice, ambient technology, biometrics, movement and gestures. If you don’t believe me, here are some facts from the pros.

“We expect AI, machine learning and VPAs to be one of the major strategic battlegrounds from 2017 onwards, and make many mobile apps fade and become subservants of VPAs”

- Annette Zimmermann, research director at Gartner.  

 

Gartner estimates that within four years, 20% of phone interactions will rely on what the company calls Virtual Personal Assistants (or VPAs).

“Bots will be the new apps.”

- Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella,

It’s fair to say that none of the Virtual Assistants on the market are perfect, however they are getting pretty damn good. Some are better than others, for example Siri can order us an Uber and Google cannot.

For app developers and brands, the biggest consideration is going to be ensuring their apps are using contextual information. This is because a voice-driven system’s usability increases dramatically according to how much it knows about the user’s surrounding environment. Just like your real BFF, if your Virtual Assistant knows where you live, what your favourite style of music is, and which Messina ice-cream flavour equates to your Friday night binge sesh, then for sure you’re going to connect, engage and demand.

Beyond the phone

The exciting news is that it’s not just smart phones, already we’re seeing smart devices in homes where you can tell your very own virtual assistant to turn the lights on, shut the garage or turn the heat up. Samsung’s Otto is an Internet-connected speaker and microphone that interacts with you via spoken conversations and can control home appliances like lights. Otto can answer questions, order products, and play music and podcasts on command.

I’m also a huge fan of Google Home. We have one set up in our creative technology lab, Adrenalin X. The office favourite is “Okay Google, tell us a joke?” Unfortunately, Google’s quality of jokes are stuck in third grade “Why do cows have bells? Because their horns don't work.”

With more devices being connected, some of the experts are suggesting that there will be bigger platforms, like app stores, but for Virtual Assistants, so they can answer all your questions and requests, no matter where you are or what device you’re using. Ubiquity is a beautiful thing.

So is it time to say goodbye to the app?  

Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, Alexa and Otto represent just the beginning of what’s possible, we predict the future will see more specialised, personalised, pre-emptive and highly intelligent AI. To the point where app stores will no longer exist for our usage, but rather for our digital BFF to make decisions on what we need and what we should use.  

So is it time to say goodbye to the app? My answer is yes… for the most part. Before you go deleting all your apps off your phone, first play around with your native Virtual Assistant to see what it can interact with and go from there. Just keep in mind interactions will depend on the device you’re using and what tasks you’re asking it to do.

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