Conversational UIs are maturing with every passing minute. Consumers' appetite for more and more humanized interactions has made old fashioned technology players clench their teeth (after they could not spot the next big trend) and created new whitespaces in the UIs space (because users are ready to adopt new functionalities and changes!). As a passionate technologist, I've found the change in the conversational UIs space intriguing and hence worth sharing.
Conversational Hybrid UIs
The advent of smartphones and IP-based messaging has raised the popularity of conversational UIs. Emojis and stickers have made old style text messaging more engaging as well as opened new ways of communication. While it is easier to use text messaging, it is very limiting as a UI for sophisticated activities like buying a product on e-commerce portal. WeChat, a pioneer in conversational interfaces, introduced hybrid conversational UIs. These can seamlessly switch over from conversational UI to graphical UI. Conversational commerce is one of the examples of what WeChat has done with this approach. Users could ask for a product by typing the product name using natural language and response is presented with a graphical interface where user can browse, click and finish the transaction.
Intelligent Virtual Assistants - Raise the bar for Conversational UIs
While chat messaging platforms like WeChat, Telegram, WhatsApp, Facebook messenger are gaining widespread acceptance, voice recognition and AI have brought in intelligent virtual assistants to the fore. Apple's Siri, followed by Android's "Ok Google" and Microsoft's Cortona have raised the bar for conversational interfaces. Siri uses voice recognition, enhanced by simple menu based responses which has taken hybrid interfaces to the next level. Whereas, Google has brought in contextual computing into intelligent assistants, making assistants easy to use. However, extending these intelligent assistants with custom functionality is a challenge at the moment since the extension points are tightly guarded by the platform makers. This has presented a whole new world of opportunity for messaging platform vendors.
Chatbots - The Next Big Trend in Conversational UIs
While intelligent assistants may take time to bring custom extensions, messaging vendors have been able to open up their platforms for custom extensions, known as Chatbots. Chatbots mimic human conversations using intelligent and natural languages. Messaging vendors have started providing open frameworks for Chatbot development. Most Chatbots are capable of hybrid UI combining conversational and graphical UIs. Use of Hybrid UIs makes them a huge phenomenon. Since Facebook opened their messenger for custom Chatbots at F8 conference in April this year, there are already more than 30,000 bots on the messenger platform. These bots range from airlines like KLM providing flight information to a bot called 'Shep' which offers prayers. In fact, there is now even an app store for bots as well.
Conversational UIs have come of age over time and are now finding takers in B2C and B2B market. In my next blog, I will cover the steps for developing sophisticated Chatbots and the various types of technology vendors specific to Chatbots.