Since (chat)bots are quite a new thing (and still quite underrated), here a few thoughts why I think this is one of the key shifts in the last few years:
- 900+m active people on Facebook Messenger
- 700+m active people on WeChat
- 200+m active people on Line app
- 200+m active people on Kik
- 100+m active people on Telegram
All of the above platforms just recently (weeks) either launched the ability to chat with bots (not only humans) or updated their platform to add more functionality and use cases.
This is still brand new, only very few bots exist (think dozens or hundreds depending on the platform but growing fast).
Compare this to 2008 when Apple introduced the iOS app store for the iPhone (previously there was no way to install 3rd party apps) in summer of 2008. How may iPhones were sold in total up until the end of 2008? Less than 15m.
Less friction 🌊
There are platforms that either don't have a thriving app store or no app store at all. If they have an app store the specific combination of operating system (version) & hardware often means that many apps don't really work on them (this is a vast potential user base that is not easily reachable). Yet these OS/hardware permutations often support at least one of the messengers above quite well.
For power users installing a new app often means entering a very long password (or going to keychain or other password managers first) just to realize you need to delete an installed app that is currently on the phone to free up storage space.
The other extreme end of the spectrum does not install apps because it is just too complicated. What is my password? What is this app store? Or they install the app but churn right away before getting activated because the on-boarding and UI is just too complicated (what does it mean to log in using facebook, what are these permissions you want, get me out of here).
Lower barrier to entry 🚪
It takes a ton of time (weeks, months, years) and expertise to build a mobile application that delivers great user experience. You have to become really good at state management, ui and interaction concepts, and many other things. You're also limited to a small set of programming languages you can use, difficult build tools, slow feedback cycles and so on.
Compared to that bots can be built way faster and with way fewer people. Also the same teams will be able to deliver a way better user experience out of the box because there are fewer things that can go wrong. On top of that almost all if not all logic lives on the server side so you can use any programming language you want and mix and match as you wish (yes you can also do this on the backend of your mobile apps but that just underlines it: with bots you just build the backend and get all the distribution advantages as a side-effect of the platform).
Last but not least: since chat bots 'restrict' or let's rather say unify the ui and the interaction with a service even more than mobile apps do they have the potential to be easier to use and learnings to be transferred from one to the other.
Also people do not start from scratch because they are already familiar with the core ui and interaction concepts from chatting with other people.
All things being equal this alone imho would be worth it to take a deep look at how the platforms work and what they have to offer.