Speak to some bot creators and they will tell you that they’re willing to jump through the hoops of building and submitting an app to Apple in order to join the iMessage App Store. It is possible to create a standalone app for iMessage only, but they think app for the App Store with an iMessage extension can give them a leg up on competition.
The allure of iMessage apps and the iMessage App Store, which debuted as part of iOS 10 about a month ago, is considerable. Compared to other bot platforms, iMessage offers a deep, rich experience that sets it apart from from Facebook Messenger, Kik, and Slack. And from these developers’ point of view, the opportunity to get into the iMessage App Store and get their bots — now called apps — onto the iMessage platform is worth the extra days of coding.
But for an end user, apps on iMessage have upsides and downsides — just like on any other platform.
1. Many functions work directly inside iMessage
You can watch YouTube videos, share music from iTunes or Spotify, and play Words with Friends with someone without ever leaving iMessage. Web pages get preview cards with clean art, and the things you share from apps can present themselves in different ways.
That may seem simple, but many other bots or chat platforms do not yet offer the same. Instead, they bring you to a web browser or another app, leading to a less-immersive experience. The financial consequences of this may be felt by iMessage competitors in the future if users become accustomed to media, bots, and apps that operate directly inside chat platforms.
2. It’s soooo smooth
If you haven’t had a chance to play with the various iMessage apps, give them a shot. Tap any app inside iMessage, and the app will open below your messages. Use the arrow in the right hand corner to toggle an iMessage app between half and full screen view. iMessage apps are generally a tad slower to respond than most bots on other platforms, but the lag is negligible.
3. You can shop and play games together
It can be very practical and a lot of fun to bring an app into a conversation with another person. You can order movie tickets, shop together on Jet, plan events together, play games, make a restaurant reservation. Both Venmo and Stripe Cash have iMessage apps that let you send cash to contacts in iMessage.
4. There’s an App Store
Take a look at other bot platforms. Microsoft bot directory has roughly 50 bots made by Microsoft. The Kik Bot Shop features more than 100 bots, but more than 20,000 have been made so far, and they’re not presented by order of popularity, but rather by what Kik wants you to see. The iMessage App Store features apps Apple wants to highlight, but it also lists bots based on popularity. Right out of the gate, Apple may have the most robust bot directory.
1. You have to download an app to use a service or share a service with friends
A popular argument among bot evangelists is that unlike apps, bots require no downloads. That is thought to make them potentially more popular in developing nations where smartphone memory can be limited and where the largest growth in smartphone purchases is expected to occur in the coming years.
iMessage apps require downloads, and that’s a problem, not just because of memory. Want to play a game with a friend? You both have to download the app first. Want to see an Airbnb listing your significant other sent you? iMessage will ask you to download the app.
2. There is no desktop version
The nice cards and what-not that iMessage shows you on a mobile device do not carry over to the Messages app on a desktop computer. There’s still a link, so the entire experience is not severed, but if you’re a person who likes sending messages from both an iPhone and the Messages desktop app, this can feel like a disconnect.
3. Stickers can be fun, but they muddy the App Store experience
Meander around the iMessage App Store, and you will run into brands you know and love. (For me it was BuzzFeed, Starbucks, and Trello.) So, to interact with one of them, you’ll complete the download and … end up with a sticker set — yes, stickers — from that brand.
Stickers are basically emojis, and there are no doubt some good ones out there, but it’s a single use case splattered across an entire marketplace.
The proliferation of stickers in the App Store make it necessary to sift through them to find useful, powerful apps. For example, the Top 10 purchased items in the iMessage App Store at the time this story was published were all stickers. Some kind of partition between iMessage stickers and iMessage apps would help improve discovery and adoption.
4. The lack of app selection is pretty surprising
There are dozens of interesting apps and services available in iMessage today, but the iMessage App Store is by no means a replica of the iOS App Store. That’s bound to change as more iMessage apps and iOS app extensions are made.
In much the same way that the search function in Google Assistant leans on Google’s bread and butter, the iMessage App Store relies on a powerful, pre-existing app ecosystem. It’s been less than a month, but iMessage already offers one of the most impressive experiences available on any chat platform. It’s going to be really exciting to see more of the App Store migrate to the iMessage App Store, and to see how the iMessage platform responds to the rise of bots and artificial intelligence as it competes against the likes of Amazon Alexa, Facebook Messenger, Google Assistant, and other emerging chat platforms.