Chatbots and conversational UI are among the most hyped technologies of 2016.

Chatbots are computer programs that can maintain automated text conversations with users through use of artificial intelligence and natural language processing.

Early excitement about chatbots has given way to the realization that many challenges remain in both technology and understanding of what users are looking for when chatting with computers. In the words of Fred Wilson, a prominent venture capitalist who invested in Kik, a popular messaging platform:

New user behaviors take time to develop and sometimes require a breakthrough app to get things started. That’s where we are with chatbots. The hype phase is over and we are now into the figuring it out phase. That’s usually when interesting stuff starts to happen.

According to Comscore, smartphone apps now account for half the time Americans spend online. At the same time, the mobile app market has become saturated. It is extremely difficult and expensive right now to succeed with a consumer-focused mobile app. The mobile app gold rush is over for all but large deep-pocket publishers. So now mobile app developers are looking for the next big thing.

While many challenges remain, chatbots promise to create a new channel for reaching mobile users alongside mobile apps. That’s why there is no shortage of entrepreneurs and developers taking their shots at “figuring it out” with chatbots.

All popular messaging services, including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, Telegram, Slack, and Kik, are opening their platforms to innovation by third-party developers. In July 2016 Microsoft announced that 30,000 developers have signed up for the Microsoft Bot Framework. In the same month Facebook reported that developers created 11,000 bots for its Facebook Messenger platform. In August 2016 Kik, a smaller messaging app popular with teens in North America, reported that more than 20,000 bots have been built for Kik, and Kik users have exchanged almost 2 billion messages with chatbots since the company has opened its app to developers. The chatbot group on Facebook has close to 13,000 members, and a new chatbot is announced almost every day.

The outcomes of the “figuring it out” phase in chatbots will be decided by developers. This is why we included questions about chatbot development in our 11th Developer Economics survey, where 8,464 developers responded. We published full results in the Chatbot Developer Landscape 2016 report.

The data shows that the efforts of Facebook, Microsoft, and Slack to promote chatbot development achieved early results. An absolute majority of developers worldwide are aware of the opportunities in chatbots. At the same time, the chatbot ecosystem is still in its early stages and lots of work remains to attract masses of developers to the chatbot idea. Less than a quarter of developers who are aware of chatbots are convinced of the chatbot appeal.

It’s notable that Apple and Google, the undisputed leaders of the mobile app world, fell far behind Facebook, Microsoft, and even smaller messaging apps in seizing the chatbot opportunity. Facebook is the undisputed global leader in bot developer mindshare with over 40 percent of developers interested in developing for the Facebook Messenger platform.

If you’d like to know more about what developers think about chatbots, take a look at our Chatbot Developer Landscape 2016 report, which answers the following questions:

  • What does the chatbot landscape look like?
  • How popular is the idea of chatbots with developers?
  • How mature is the chatbot developer ecosystem?
  • Which developers are more attracted to the chatbot promise?
  • Which messaging platforms are popular with chatbot developers?

This post appeared originally on the VisionMobile blog.