Apple Business Chat

by Colin Berkshire

I have often pined about the need to make voice calls richer in content. That is, to display to users menus and active content during a phone call. I feel this is simply essential if voice communications is going to remain relevant. Increasingly, I am pressing for companies to be able to put on a good face by having an open standard picture phone capability that can seamlessly transition from a phone call.

Apple Business Chat is a step in the right direction, but fundamentally flawed and doomed.

Apple Business Chat is a way to engage in rich text sections with business customers. With Apple Business chat you can provide a customer with ways to pay for things, you can send them screen shots and even interactive content. A mix of automated and manual routing ban be used.

But Apple Business Chat is flawed to the point that it can never become the dominant rich-media solution:

  1. It requires an IOS device. Apple would be better off developing a device agnostic standard, but one which takes full advantage of their products. By excluding half the devices in the world a company can never implement it with the idea that it is a “company preferred solution”. It will always be relegated to “an option for Apple users.”
  2. While it allows a business Chat session to transition to a phone call it doesn’t envelop the call. And, you can’t practically transition to a video call. Apple shows in one of their slides a person trying to hook up a flexible hose. But if I were that user I would want to scan a QR code on the product package, request support, indicate what type of help I wanted, and then transition to a video call so I could show the agent the problem. You can’t practically do that…I see no way to transition from a voice call to a video call, or to initiate a video call…and it still only would work with IPS devices.
  3. You can’t even coerce a video call to your computer. I see no reasonable way for a company to handle video callers from a Windows 10 desktop computer. Our agents use Windows 10 desktop computers. I would be happy to have them engage in video conversations to help customers, but Apple’s video service (FaceTime) is proprietary and there is no Windows 10 client. Steve Jobs promised FaceTime would be an open standard, but Tim Cook put the quash on that idea.
  4. The whole suite of functionality a business needs to manage an enhanced media session is missing. How can supervisors monitor or record sessions? Monitoring is fundamental to managing a call center. In some industries it is a legal requirement that communications be recorded. Without pre-built tools that do this, the development barrier is too high..and neither my banker nor stock broker could use the service.
  5. In the end, it is not a unified communications service. It is a text messaging service with the ability to present a few menus and manage texting sessions. It’s really quite lame. (Can’t Apple do anything right and surprisingly good anymore?)

Apple Business Chat is so close to being a great idea that could propel Apple to a new level. But their arrogance (selfishness?) will relegate them to failure. (Apple is stuck in Ballmer thinking while Microsoft now has Nadella thinking…if this is to be innovated by an incumbent, it’s more likely to be Microsoft right now.)

Here is a list of the features I think we MUST HAVE to have a new generation of communications:
An open standard that can be implemented on the server and client side.
The ability to seamlessly transition between text-chat to voice-call to video-call as needed.
Persistent sessions that may span days or long periods of time.
Transferable sessions that can be transferred from one agent to another (on either end). A session is much like a technical support “case” that can be handed off.
Archiving capability (on either end) for service monitoring, legal compliance, or personal records.

I believe a profound, remarkable, and swift transition will happen if the above five needs can be fulfilled. I think there is a tremendous pent-up demand for unified multimedia communications. We have the critical threshold for hardware out there in the field. Billions of smartphones on the internet are there. So all we need is the standard and software toolkits to be built to meet this standard.

Apple could be the one to hold the key to this entire technology globally. Apple could own and guide the standard. Apple products could work best if Apple managed the standard. Apple could get a deep inroad into businesses with this capability. Apple could be much more than a glorified iPod company.

But do they have the vision? Does Tim Cook have any vision?