January 2018 update: Apple is continually revising their App Store Review Guidelines, for the latest post read It's time to rethink your event app strategy.
Intelligent chatbots. Hyper-local recommendations. Virtual beacons. We’ve seen giant steps forward in event app technology, and there are more exciting innovations to come. What can you expect in 2018? And will Apple even let you have your own app next year?
A brief history of event apps
Eight years after the introduction of event apps they are now a staple at conferences and events of all sizes. Each year has brought compelling new innovations to elevate the attendee experience and help organizers optimize their event. What started as a replacement for the printed guide became a hub for interactivity including audience participation, attendee networking, session surveys and more. Bluetooth beacons, called iBeacon by Apple, made it possible for event apps to provide location services indoors, including way-finding and location-based messaging.
Apple squashes cookie-cutter event apps
With thousands of events launching apps and some launching hundreds of their own branded event apps, Apple became concerned about the growing number of virtually identical apps being published, which made finding the app you’re looking for more difficult. In mid-2017, they stepped in and changed their App Store Review Guidelines to crack down on cookie-cutter apps, casting a cloud of confusion over the future of event apps. For your 2018 events, you can no longer assume your event app vendor will be able to post on the App Store, even if you are using your own account.
In order to keep publishing event apps, other companies now state the need to put your events into their vendor-branded "container" app alongside events from other brands, including competitors. This is only true if you are using a cookie-cutter event app. There are many vendors who, in order to maximize their profitability and roll-out time, will sell you an event app which is exactly the same as every one of their customers. You may be able to upload your logo and add your content, but with cookie cutter apps that is where the differentiation ends.
If you make the investment to upgrade to a true enterprise-grade event app platform like Eventbase, you can have your own unique branded event app created specifically to meet the needs of your organization. The Eventbase Platform is fundamentally, philosophically, and architecturally different from a cookie-cutter service. It’s a flexible mobile platform which can support the full spectrum of requirements demanded by the world's biggest enterprises and brands. You can host in a specific environment or location and achieve your information security requirements, all while showcasing the uniqueness of every event in your portfolio. You can deliver a consistent experience, learn about attendees across multiple events, and promote other relevant events to attendees within the same app. And you can do all this while meeting Apple’s requirements for a unique app.
The rise of the Intelligent Event App
This year saw the evolution of mobile event technology to a platform offering a new level of intelligence. We saw the launch of chatbots capable of understanding complex questions from attendees and delivering answers in a visual and engaging way. South By SouthWest (SXSW) introduced us to their automated bot, Abby, IBM launched a chatbot for its largest event powered by Watson, and Cisco made their event bot the first feature users saw when they opened their event app. Each of these bots were able to have conversations with human users via text and voice command, replicating a concierge-style experience.
At SXSW, attendees asked “What UX sessions are happening tomorrow afternoon?” and their bot Abby responded with interactive tiles displaying images and details of these events. Whereas other event bot experiments have been limited to providing scripted answers to pre-programmed questions, these intelligent bots were also able to query multiple dynamic data sources, including your entire database of event content, to provide detailed answers to complex questions across every session, speaker, venue and more.
Abby was also created with personality and a sense of fun. Send Abby a taco emoji and the bot answered with directions to nearby food trucks. Submit a rainbow emoji and the bot returned a list of sessions related to diversity.
Beyond bots, 2017 SXSW launched a new Attendee Recommendations feature that matched you to other people at the event who may be of interest. This included hyper-local recommendations, where the app detected your location through the use of a large network of Bluetooth beacons then suggested people you may want to meet who were in the same session room as you. The result was thousands of new connections and a seamless networking experience.
What’s next for event apps
The rise of the intelligent event app marks the beginning of a new journey for event technology. The underlying technologies that power these capabilities will continue to evolve with every event completed. By applying machine learning and artificial intelligence, the goal is to one day produce an intelligent bot that becomes the preferred method of interacting with the app. It will be a personalized digital concierge that can proactively provide you with recommendations before you know you want them and give you all the information you need to know to get the most out of the event you are attending.
You can expect significant progress in the level of event app intelligence, but these innovations will hopefully feel so natural that you won’t notice. Netflix is built on a sophisticated personalization engine that serves up intelligent recommendations to get you to content you like, but most people don’t notice the continual improvements they make to their service. The intelligent event app will likely evolve this way too.
You can expect the seamless integration of external services in the chatbot experience. When you leave a session the bot may preemptively ask if you would like to order a Lyft to take you to your next session six blocks away.
This year we saw experimentation with wearable beacons (a.k.a. beacon-in-a-badge), and the potential for this new technology is enormous. As costs continue to decline and the technology continues to improve, expect to see more event organizers providing these for every attendee and deploying an array of readers to record how much time people spend in different areas of their event. Completing the circle by integrating this location data into the event app will provide a feedback loop, so you can prompt attendees when they enter a session room or spend time at an exhibitor booth. With adoption at 100%, this will also provide even more hyper-local networking opportunities.
With Apple’s introduction of ARkit, you will also see a lot of experimentation with Augmented Reality over the next year. Events will be able to more easily overlay 2D or 3D elements onto a live view from a device's camera, so those elements appear to inhabit the real world. While the strongest use cases currently appear to be with exhibitor and sponsor activations, it will be fun to see all the exploration of other creative uses of this new technology.
2018 is shaping up to be an exciting year for mobile event technology. If your vendor is trying to take your organization down a path of one-size-fits-all event apps, it’s time to consider adopting an enterprise event app strategy that lets you have your own branded app, tailored just for you. By focusing on what is unique about your brand and your organization’s needs, you will also be in a position to take advantage of advances in mobile event technology.