If you’ve gradually felt more and more comfortable talking to robots on your mobile devices, then you aren’t alone (as strange as that may sound). Mobile user interface (UI) design has evolved rapidly from Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) of the 80’s, to early-model Nokia feature phones of the 90’s, to modern day iPhone and Android devices of the 2000’s and beyond. And these changes are happening so quickly, over such a short period of time, that delegating our everyday tasks to chatbots and conversational UI’s seems like an ordinary progression in the mobile arena.
So What Exactly is Conversational UI?
Specifically, “Conversational UI” is one of the latest, hottest trends in mobile, and it’s expected to shift how user experiences are crafted going forward. By definition, a conversational UI is any interface that replicates chatting with a human. Facebook’s intelligent personal assistant service called Facebook M, and Google’s similarly helpful product Google Now are two of the clearest examples of what the future holds for conversational UI on mobile. Even Windows smartphones are arriving with Cortana pre-installed, which is another conversational personal assistant, and competitor to Apple’s Siri.
The conversational UI trend has ultimately been ignited because of a logical transition from an “outdated” form of communication to a much more personable one. You are in the midst of a global transition from old school computer-to-human interaction, to modern human-to-human interaction. Because if you really think about it, people have always interacted with technology on technology’s terms. Navigating folders, clicking on icons, and accessing documents has historically always been about using visual-based Graphical User Interface’s (GUIs) to execute command lines in “computer speak”. Today, conversational UI is pushing users away from visual-based computer messaging, and towards “real-life” human communication. Just look at how the team messaging service Slack works with Howdy.ai, an intelligent virtual assistant service, to help teams automate their everyday tasks using plain English.
In the context of mobile apps, Conversational UI is allowing mobile users to casually text or voice their everyday wishes, like ordering food to be delivered, or requesting bank wire transfers. It could very well transform how mobile app users carry out ordinary tasks and engage in commerce.
It’s helpful for your brand to keep in mind that this trend probably indicates mobile app users aren’t completely satisfied with the inefficiencies of “unintelligent” technology. Texting or saying what you want out loud in “plain speak” can be much simpler than investigating a bunch of different menus items to adjust a single privacy setting. It’s also safe to assume that conversational UI trends have a lot to do with applying the principle of least effort as extensively as users are willing to accept it. This is all about meeting user demands, after all, and it isn’t a big secret that users love taking the path of least resistance whenever possible. Conversational UI is the path of least resistance.
One of the most significant changes that the transition to conversational UI will provoke is a newfound emphasis on the tone and voice of your brand’s digital UX. This is because conversational UI relies heavily on, well, realistic conversation. Users want to feel like they’re interacting with a real human being when they experience your product, not a robot, which is a major reason why the app economy is moving from visual UI design to emotion-based UI design. Beginning now, your brand will have to become extraordinarily conscious of how your product’s overall messaging makes people feel. The artificial intelligence that powers chatbots and voice interactions is still in its earliest days, so it will be important for your company to apply real-world emotions to your conversational UI in the form of good copywriting, quality voice input/output software, and a dash of vulnerability.
By this point, you may be wondering if the global transition to mobile UI design is a wonderful or scary thing. Feeling apprehensive about big changes such as this is absolutely normal, yet the good news is that robots won’t be seizing total control of your life or others’ anytime soon. Users will still need to rely on graphical mobile app UIs to read content, enter personal information, play games, shop, and do anything else that requires sight. Conversational UI is generally intended to make execution easier, so that users can accomplish tasks faster, and theoretically live more efficient and better lives.
The potential downside of conversational UI is that it may take a while for audiences to fully adopt, similar to how some users of Windows 8 still refuse to upgrade to Windows 10, which comes with Cortana installed. Some people have had a taste for conversational UI, and simply don’t want to adapt to new technology, or are not so inclined to communicate with bots for whatever reason. Eventually, most people will probably adapt as its implementation increases.
Overall, conversational UI is an exciting trend that will likely benefit the mobile app economy as a whole as long as it can genuinely make people’s lives easier on a large enough scale. And, from the evidence that’s currently available, people truly seem to be enjoying the newfound “power” that comes with having a virtual assistant waiting on your every desire. Having the ability to purchase food, order a cab ride, book a vacation, and shop on mobile with a single line of text or spoken word could absolutely be a strong enough motivator to drive the next wave of opportunity that the mobile app economy needs. It would be a very smart move to start thinking about how you can prepare your mobile app with a chatbot or conversational UI today.