Apple launched Business Chat for iMessage today in developer preview, company executives said onstage today at WWDC, the company’s annual developer conference. Message icons will appear alongside the names of businesses in Siri, Spotlight searches, and Maps for quick chat with online or offline businesses. News of the launch of Business Chat was first made available earlier this week.

Using the iMessage App Framework, businesses integrate iMessage apps into a Business Chat experience to deliver services.

Business Chat is an immediate competitor with Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, Twitter, and other messaging apps who want to connect businesses with customers. It will come to iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches in iOS 11 or later.

In addition to Business Chat, this week Apple launched HomePod, its answer to smart speakers like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. A range of updates are also on the way for Siri, including additional personalization in native iOS apps and the ability to review your personal finances like checking, debit, or credit card accounts with just your voice.

Customers must send the first message to start a Business Chat conversation, but once it begins, a business can schedule appointments, send notifications, make sales, and offer a range of other business services.

With Business Chat, predictive text, that gray space above the keyboard where suggestions are served up, will surface personal information the customer can share with the business, like phone number or email address.

The Time Picker feature in Business Chat allows customers to select from open appointment times with a business. List Picker lets you select things from a list, like a group of items for sale. Apple Pay can be used to provide payment, shipping, and contact information.

A Hide Alerts option will be available to customers to silence notifications from a business. Delete a conversation and the business can no longer reach that customer.

To use Business Chat, a business must work with a customer service platform like LivePerson, Nuance, Genesys, or Salesforce.

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