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Here’s how Apple is making iMessage take on Facebook Messenger bots

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Facebook Messenger gets a new formidable rival

At the wrap of Apple’s WWDC keynote, we learned that the company was set to announce Business Chat, a new tool that will allow businesses to add a live chat / customer support feature. But unlike what currently exists with Twitter’s DM feature or Facebook’s Messenger for Business, Apple’s platform won’t require businesses to have a social media presence, as customers can simply search for them on Spotlight, Siri, or Maps.

During a WWDC session today, Apple elaborated more on just how it works. Business Chat essentially combines the app component of Messenger and the customer service portion from Twitter, letting you talk to businesses to get shopping / scheduling / general inquiry advice and reach out to file a dispute all from the same chat thread.

Just like Messenger, Apple’s Business Chat will allow customers to shop and buy products straight from chat. Unlike Messenger, the linked payment solution appears to be strictly Apple Pay. Businesses can show items in stock in a list format which pops up from the conversation and prevents them from having to open a new window.

For businesses that offer appointments, Business Chat links up with the user’s own calendar so that they can see if an offered time slot conflicts with their schedule. There are also other little useful features like predictive text, that can load a type ahead message such as address or phone number when the business asks for it.

For things more complex than scheduling and shopping, businesses can direct users to download an iMessage app to complete their request. For example, an airline might have a specific app that helps a passenger select their seat from within their conversation. It’s a similar tactic to how Facebook encourages developers to build their own apps and bots within Messenger.

Business Chat currently works with other customer service platforms like Salesforce and Nuance, and is not restricted to companies without retail locations. The feature is currently being offered in a developer preview and businesses can register here. Once they’re through, they can whitelist employees to build out the tool before offering the service widely.

The concept from both Apple and Facebook borrows from what’s already quite popular in Asia’s e-commerce scene on WeChat and LINE, so I’m curious to see whether they can compete in that region once the features inevitably expand overseas.