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MWC 2017

It's The Software, Stupid

Often times the big news and reveals coming out of major tech events are in the form of hardware — new gizmos, gadgets, and phones that wow or confound audiences with their additions, subtractions, and features. But during a keynote address at Mobile World Congress on Wednesday, we were reminded that it’s the software, stupid.

Okay, they were a bit nicer about it than that. Jeff Lawson, the Founder, CEO and Chairman of cloud communications platform Twilio, spoke at length about how software mindset is growing across all areas, and how that mindset has historically, and will continue to, impact how hardware is made and how problems get solved.

As the digitization of the world continues, software’s ability to, as Lawson put it, “build the minimal bridge required”, has become more paramount. As software technology has advanced, we’ve seen simplifications of many of our physical pieces of technology. One can think of how televisions have changed, aesthetically. Not only have they gotten flatter and much lighter, but gone are the dials, buttons, and antennas. But as Lawson pointed out, some companies are still slower to lean on software.

If you look at your standard cable television remote control, you’re bound to see quite a few buttons. Essentially, everything the remote can do on the television is baked into the remote control’s physical makeup. If there’s no button for it, you can’t do it. Contrast that with the simplistic Apple TV remote. With just a few buttons, the capability of an Apple TV remote lies not in the hardware, but in the software. And the Apple TV is in a much better position to adapt than a cable provider’s archaic remote control. When change happens, Apple is able to update its software, whereas stodgy hardware remains stuck with what its buttons can do. Lawson also referenced the software-based Square credit card receiver versus the heavily plastic-and-button-laden classic machines, some of which became obsolete when credit cards began featuring new security chips that required a different piece of hardware.

As many consumers’ first contact with brands now is in a digital space, software is more important than ever. It’s crucial for customer experience. In the same way that improved software allows hardware to become less complicated, it also allows communication between brands and consumers to be more streamlined, too. The latter part of the keynote saw chat app Kik founder Ted Livingston speak to the growing power of chat bots and their ability to cut through clutter to provide consumers with immediate value.

In the way that an old school remote control can be deemed too complicated when compared to a newer hardware, a mobile app risks the same complication issues when stacked up against a chat bot. “Bots remove all the friction,” Livingston said, pointing out how mobile apps built for conferences or places that people go to infrequently, like restaurants, can often be too cumbersome. The user has to search for the app, download it, create an account, learn what it can do and how to use it, and input their credit card information in order to unlock the full potential of the experience. According to Livingston, chat bots have the potential to be the next great platform because of their ability to create value without the need for extra user interface. They live inside messaging apps where consumers already are, and can offer solutions in an instant.

Even if they don’t end up being the next great platform, chat bots are an example of how brands can provide value to consumers by focusing on what’s behind the scenes, and not necessarily what people can see or touch.

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