The chatbot approach to app development

3 min read

chatbot messenger

By David Niki, Comelite IT Solutions

Chatbots are the buzzword du jour and are slated to replace service apps and websites, some believe. While it’s too early to lean make such extreme assumptions, there are intuitive ways bots can be used right now, and a proper usage can have significant impact in app development and reduce production costs.

In this article we are sharing the experience we gained during development of Universal Chat; a bot ecosystem based on Telegram’s Bot API, as well as Facebook Messenger, Skype and Slack—Universal utilizes them all.

The benefits of chatbots

Today, whenever I see a new request, I think of it “bot-wise” instead of “app-wise”—I try to see if we can solve the issue with a bot instead of an app. It’s easy to do the math: to develop an app you need to work on graphics, mockups, develop a frontend and a backend system, code the UI, code the UX, and tons of other issues that I skipped here. With bots, you can immediately dive into the coding.

Instead of developing everything from scratch, you will be relying on a ready platform. When we created Universal for Telegram, we only coded it once – and it was working perfectly on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Windows Phone and web. A true time- and cost saver if we would code for all of those ourselves.

On the user side, users will not need to clutter their phones with new apps and learn a new interface and app for every service they use, and they’ll be able to interact with you through a familiar environment that they’re using on a daily basis.

Also, updating services and rolling out new features is a breeze for both the developer and the user. Developers only code the new features and don’t need to go through the pains of publishing updates in app stores and making sure users have installed them. As for the users—they don’t need to do anything; new functionality will be available to them as soon as it is implemented.

Different expectations

Demand for UX and UI in apps are really high, so high there has constantly been a battle between hybrid and native apps. Let’s face it: bots are even more distant to native apps than hybrid apps are since they are pure server side code while hybrid apps do have some native components.

Yet, no one even cares about this. Bots are meant to be used in a conversational manner. Of course the UI gets spiced up every now and then with buttons or pictures, but what is expected from bots is to get the job done fast. I saw an Uber app for Telegram, and it simply functioned by users entering their location and the bot asking the nearest driver to pick them up. None of the other procedures you would expect from an Uber app were there – and users are fine with that.

Lessons learned

Users use bots because they want to get things done fast. Bots are easy to use, instantly available, require no loading nor any installation. The UI is already familiar for the user so there is no learning curve either. Harnessing the power of bots in your projects will let you focus on the part that brings value to your users, and lets you cut the fuss.

Practical examples

“The most successful games are those that use existing technology and tweak it to the max”. I wish I could remember where I read it, but nothing holds truer. While this is not game-development, looking at the tools at your disposal and finding intuitive new ways to use them paves the way to great achievements.

When developing Universal, we tried to come up with such ways, i.e. use chatbots in a way they were never used before. Thus, we created a Universal communication bridge that would connect the major messaging platforms. To do this, we did not create one bot but rather an “army of bots”. There are currently about 10 Telegram bots, one Messenger bot, one Skype bot and one Slack bot. These bots recognize the user through their “Universal Numbers”, and pass the user through the different communication channels. The result is a system where the user can chat with several clients on a diverse range of platforms and manage everything from his Telegram account.

In another example, we had a client who wanted to be alerted whenever he got an order, besides some other features. Instead of creating an entirely new app from scratch (which would require an entire month), we managed to solve his request with a bot, developed in a few days.

Final words

I’m still not saying bots will replace apps. As bots evolve, so will apps and websites. But harnessing the powers they bring, the ease of development, ease of use and reduced costs make them an element no one should overlook.

David Niki is an experienced software engineer and the Operations Manager at Comelite IT Solutions. He tweets at @DavidNiki02


Leave a Reply