AI promises to change apps forever

Apps have become an intrinsic part of our daily lives, but be prepared to let go of what you know, because apps are about to mutate into something very different. New technology using machine learning and artificial intelligence are going to transform the way we interact with our mobile devices.

The app’s domination of the mobile world is about to be challenged as new ways of interacting and controlling things arrive with the Internet of Things (IoT), which will entice us away from the app interface we are currently so familiar with.

Why the big app metamorphosis? Because the majority of innovation in the mobile arena is not happening inside smartphones, but in the things that communicate with them, according to analyst firm Gartner. In just two years, it forecasts that 25 percent of new mobile apps, for example, will talk to IoT devices.

But don’t start consigning apps to the history books, just yet! “The post-app era means that there will be more data and code in the cloud and less on the device, thanks to the continuous improvement of cellular network performance,” explained Gartner vice president David Willis, author of the report.

So it isn’t goodbye to apps, instead it’s hello to apps in a whole new guise.

Age of VPAs and bots

In the future, mobile technology will offer pervasive services to any person or thing, 24/7. To map mobile’s omnipresence, users will search for new and exciting services to tap into its power, using emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and natural-language processing.

Here, Willis believes that virtual personal assistants (VPA), much like Siri, Alexa and Google Now together with bots, will take on many of the functions currently performed by apps. They will use artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to learn new information. In fact, machine learning will allow devices to teach themselves simply through exposure to new data.

Chat bots are already having an impact in business. They are essentially computer programs that enable us to interact with apps via simulated conversation. Companies are already experimenting with them using a mix of machine learning, natural language processing and real-time customer service teams to answer queries.

For example, Tencent's WeChat has taken the Chinese market by storm. It allows you to carry out a host of tasks from ordering a pizza and hailing a cab to paying your electricity bill. WeChat had 697 million active monthly users at the end of 2015, according to its annual report, and is growing fast.

VPAs are also making our lives easier. Take Amazon Echo, for example. Alexa, its addressable name, can make information based queries and help you with your shopping through Amazon, including re-ordering commonly ordered goods. Or Siri integrated on the Apple TV. The VPA can do everything from find a movie with a favorite actor to check stocks and the weather or answer questions about sport.

Unlike straightforward apps that have been programmed to do a job by developers. Chatbots and VPAs can work around us, learning how we operate and getting to know our likes and dislikes.

With the arrival of VPAs and bots, it is no surprise that the big names in Silicon Valley are investing heavily in artificial intelligence. Nearly 140 private companies working in the field of artificial intelligence technologies have been acquired since 2011, with over 40 acquisitions taking place this year alone, according to CB Insights. Google alone has made eleven AI acquisitions. Microsoft has gone a step further and set up a new 5,000 person AI unit of its own. All of them looking for a space on our smart devices.

What does it mean for business?

Willis warns that CIOs and IT leaders will need to be proficient in current mobile technology, while preparing for what it sees as the ‘post-app era’. Organizations will need to improve their agility, develop new skills, check out opportunities coming down the pipeline and, most importantly, develop a digital business strategy that embraces these diverse technologies.

However, this app transformation isn’t going to happen overnight. Gartner forecasts that through 2018, apps will still be the preferred tool. The key reason being they still provide a sought after user experience that “allows for sophisticated interaction and data analysis, with low-level networking and background processing”.

Mobile maturity and more advanced technological approaches are pushing the market to transform. By 2020, IDC expects some 6 billion smart mobile devices to be in use. “Maturation rather than technical disruption will be the primary influence on the shape of the market,” according to John Jackson, vice president research for mobile connected platforms at research firm IDC.

But from Facebook chat bots to Google Assistant the race is on to develop technology that can understand us and respond to our needs quickly and efficiently. The age of the super intelligent app is dawning.

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Stewart Baines
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.