Chatbot 101 – Serviceplan Middle East talk

I gave this talk a few weeks back at the Serviceplan Middle East office on the rise of Chatbots in 2017 but am only getting around to putting it up here now because I’m super lazy.

With mobile messaging app usage overtaking regular social media usage as far back as 2015, coupled with the fact that people have basically stopped downloading standalone branded apps, the opportunity for Chatbots to provide an alternative communication channel has never been more obvious.

Since Facebook opened the floodgates to developers on it’s Messenger app platform last April, tens of thousands of Chatbots have been launched. Some haven’t lived up to expectations, but the future potential of Chatbots when paired with more concrete mobile functions like location-based services, push notifications and payments mean that our definition of what a Chatbot actually is could change drastically over the coming years.

Keep an eye out for WhatsApp inevitably getting in on the action at some stage over the next 12 months too.

Posted by Rob in Apps, Facebook, Mobile, WhatsApp

Turning the smartphone from a distraction into a safe-driving tool

Road traffic incidents are the number one cause of accidental injury and fatality in the world. And while our smartphones connect us to a world of possibilities, the addictive nature of our mobile lives can regularly distract us from the world around us, which can be especially dangerous when driving. That’s why it’s great to see examples such as this safe driving app and car kit from Samsung which aims to use our reliance on smartphones in a positive way to nudge us into a more beneficial behavioural routine.

Developed by Leo Burnett Sydney, the Samsung “S-Drive” safe-driving kit aims to transform the smartphone from one of the biggest distractions on the road into a life-saving tool. Although the kit was launched back in 2014, I only stumbled across it this week. With the spate of campaign case study videos that we’ve seen coming from Cannes over the last couple of weeks, S-Drive is striking in its utility and the fact that it poses a solution to a real societal problem.

The pack includes an NFC-enabled windscreen smartphone holder that automatically launches the app and puts the device into safe-driving mode so that only voice activated calls and texts can be accessed when the car is moving. Drivers are also alerted when they exceed the speed limit, as well as given voice information on traffic updates, weather conditions, and accident blind spots. Think of it as a Sat Nav that looks out for the safety of its driver.

Drivers can also earn points for every safe kilometer travelled that can be redeemed against some pretty cool rewards, some of which are based around team goals with the aim of turning peer pressure, so often the cause of bad driving, into a positive influence.

Posted by Rob in Android, Apps, Mobile

Google aims to reinvent email with new ‘Inbox’ app

Email is one of those services that, while not exactly broken, certainly isn’t optimized for our new mobile lifestyle. There’s a couple of decent applications out there already that try to modernize the age-old email experience somewhat but, on the mobile, it’s still basically the same process that it’s always been. Enter Google’s new ‘Inbox’ app.

Inbox uses some of the aspects of Google Now to contextualize and streamline email to give users a much better experience on mobile. It also uses Google’s slick new ‘Material Design’ approach that’s come to the fore recently. Inbox is invite-only at the moment, so good luck trying to test it out, but fingers crossed it gets a mainstream launch soon enough.

Posted by Rob in Apps, Google

Yo! might not be as big of a joke as people first thought

When news came out back in June of an app that did nothing more than allow users to send push notifications simply saying “Yo!”, people shrugged. There’s an app for everything after all. When it emerged a number of days later that the app had managed to somehow raise funding to the tune of $1 million, they stood up and took notice. How could such a novelty generate such a large amount of funding so soon? Talk of a new internet bubble ensued. Since then, Yo! has been valued at $10 million and, what seemed like the joke of the tech world just a few weeks ago, doesn’t seem so funny now.

It seems that there is more than meets the eye to this concept at least and, while it sounds like a gimmick, those investors weren’t handing over their hard earned cash for nothing. They obviously see some potential presumably around the commercial possibilities of contextual notifications.

While at the moment the app is extremely one dimensional, Yo’s creator Or Arbel argues that it’s all about context. This is where the commercial angle comes in. Arbel highlights the potential examples of Starbucks sending users a Yo! when their coffee is ready, or an airline sending a Yo! to let you know that your visitor’s plane has landed on time or that your package has arrived etc.

I think the most exciting thing about this concept is that it may be able to democratise the humble push notification. At the moment, you can only receive push notifications from apps that you have downloaded (no shit!). But there is surely potential out there for a platform that let’s users receive notifications from organisations when they need certain real-time information without negotiating the mobile web or downloading a new app for each new use case.


Let’s use the package delivery example from above ; I might use DHL once or twice a year for example. Not much point in downloading their app to track my parcel for a service I use so infrequently and which will take up valuable screen real-estate on my mobile. But if I give them my Yo! username, hey presto, I’ll get a quick notification as soon as my package arrives at it’s destination. Similarly, I arrive at a bus stop heading into town. Not one of those fancy new bus stops with a nice screen telling me when the next bus is due, just a plain old regular one. I send a Yo! to the bus stop and it tells me that my bus will be there in 3 minutes. Lovely.

With any platform, building an initial critical mass of users is crucial to it’s success and Yo! seems to be well on it’s way to doing this, mainly due to it’s novelty at the moment but that’s beside the point. That’s not to say that another app can’t come along and steal it’s thunder, but just that Yo! is well placed to take advantage of this area at the moment. The use cases are there, there’s no doubt about that.

There is also some pretty cool potential around ‘push commands’ in the whole Internet of Things space. Imagine sending a Yo! or whatever it might be to your home security system to activate your alarm etc. There’s a lot of players in this area doing pretty sophisticated things like Nest and Smart Things to name but two, but this is more towards the high-end of the market and will work best with your whole house locked in to their ecosystem. A push command system using a Yo! like platform might offer some more open sourced opportunities in the Internet of Things space.

Either way, while the current Yo! app might be a bit of a laughing stock, and rightly so, I believe there is definitely some potential out there in a platform that breathes new life into the plain old push notification.

Posted by Rob in Apps, Design, Mobile

For the user, technology is simply a means to an end

There is a substantial interest today in the development of the tech scene with hundreds of news sites and thousands of blogs dedicated to covering even the smallest movements of the big players in the market. Enthusiasts are obsessed with the rumours around the latest gadgets and apps and are always on the lookout for the next big thing.

But when it all boils down to it, the hardware and software is just a means to an end. A way of enabling the user to complete an action, to facilitate a service that makes their life a bit easier. Mobile advocate Scott Bales suggests that a platform’s success is much more to do with user behaviour than the specifics of the technology itself.

One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to exploring the mobile landscape as a means to engage modern mobile consumers is that the device or technology is king.

As an app developer or a product manager, your first step is to accept that the technology device does not matter, your first priority is creating a unique and compelling mobile experience for the consumer.

Bales highlights the importance of understanding how any technology fits into the users’ lives and behaviours and mentions three key aspects to consider;

  • Context – when and where does the consumer use your service?
  • Behaviour – how and why do they use it?
  • Utility – what does it do and how does it do it?

Only by understanding in detail how the end user is to interact with your service can you possibly hope to produce something that will stand the test of time. But we see this over and over again, web or mobile products ‘designed’ by engineers without an in-depth consideration for user behaviour. With a focus on function over form. But if a user can’t figure out how to use an application, or it doesn’t fit easily into their lives, than your product could be dead in the water.

With the competition never as fierce for users’ attention as it is at the moment, the smallest details could be the difference between your product’s success or failure. For this reason, it is more important than ever to strip away the technology itself, and focus on creating something that can be easily and intuitively used and that fits seamlessly into the user’s lives and behaviours.

banksy mobile lovers‘Mobile Lovers’, Banksy

Posted by Rob in Apps, Design, Mobile