Apple has given its Chinese users notifications about the Feb 28 switchover to the Chinese data center. Source: Shutterstock

Apple joins in with Business Chat

APPLE HAS joined rivals Facebook and Google in opening a new conduit through which businesses can communicate directly with prospective and existing customers by means of a new version of its messaging service.

WhatsApp Business and Facebook Messenger already allow variations of their own on this type of functionality. Apple announced the beta of its own feature which will launch in the Spring, in a statement on Wednesday.

“Business Chat is a new way for users to communicate directly with businesses right within Messages,” Apple said in a statement.

Announced last year at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, the feature will debut with the several businesses already on board, including Discover, Hilton, and Wells Fargo.

“With Business Chat it’s easy to have a conversation with a service representative, schedule an appointment or make purchases using Apple Pay in the Messages app,” Apple said. The user’s contact information is kept private from the business and opt-outs from chats are available to the user, Apple claimed.

Businesses are always looking for new routes to their customers and potential targets, and Apple’s offering will offer another string to their bow, alongside, for instance, Messenger, which was used to connect small businesses to over 330 million people in 2017.

Facebook, in particular, has been effective at connecting its user base to local and international businesses. In India, for example, 42 percent of users are connected to at least one small business overseas, and 65 percent are connected to a domestic concern.

Apple’s website is now open for developers to register their interest in the service ready for its roll-out in the iOS 11.3 beta release. Apps can be built which integrate Safari, Calendar, Apple Pay, predictive text input – in fact, the whole Apple walled garden.

A majority of consumers said they would rather message a business than call customer service according to a study by Nielsen, which also found that messaging is increasingly going to be the B2C channel of choice in the future.

In the Cupertino giant’s favor is the fact that its massive iPhone user base already has the Message app, which comes bundled as part of iOS, and cannot easily be deleted.

Working against Apple is that it is coming late to this market. Twitter is a popular place to either bemoan service or extol a business’s virtues, and the Tencent/Alibaba eco-system is well known to be all-encompassing. But, of course, coming late to an existing product or service and doing it rather well is what Apple has a measurably good track record for.