Chatbots vs Conversational Apps: Key Differences

Over the last five years, there's been a hot debate about chatbots vs apps. Some claim that it's only a matter of time before chatbots replace apps. Others like to dismiss chatbots -- reminding us of their early UX challenges.

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Turns out, there's no reason for the dispute. Chatbots and apps actually work best when they're used together. The future will be a hybrid approach, where chatbots are integrated within apps. 

Those hybrid models are now called "conversational user interfaces" or "conversational applications." You may want to know what conversational applications are. So, what makes them so different from chatbots? How did we get here? 

In this post, we'll briefly recap how conversational technology has evolved. We'll also break down the differences between chatbots and conversational apps.

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The rise and fall of chatbots

Everyone was ready for the era of the chatbot in 2016 and 2017. Online chat was a popular communication method, setting chatbots up to revolutionize customer service. 

But, chatbots fell flat. They were less intelligent than people thought, and their text-only interfaces led to frustration. 

At the same time, mobile apps were being developed with beautiful user interfaces. Brands were creating engaging mobile experiences - rich with buttons, carousels, images, and more. 

Chatbot developers recognized the need to combine the two. They needed to take the conversational nature of chatbots and combine them with visual elements of apps. 

Chatbots vs Conversational apps

Conversational apps streamline things and eliminate friction. In the example below, look at how difficult it is to schedule a delivery with a text-based chatbot.

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The experience with the text-based chatbot is time-consuming and frustrating. British and American date formats also lead to common errors. 

This opens the door for frustration, or worse -- customers abandoning processes altogether. In customer service, we call it friction, and it costs businesses a lot of money. 

Instead, conversational apps use rich elements like calendars and date pickers. The experience is seamless and intuitive. In both conversational app and chatbots, human handover is still important. However, the latter tends to provide customer service staff with slightly more frustrated users.

The intersection of apps and chatbots

Conversational apps are essentially the intersection of apps and chatbots. These days, chatbots are usually integrated within apps. 

As conversational interfaces become more intuitive, brands use them to handle even more processes. Conversational apps parse complicated requests, execute them in real-time, and return results in a stunningly efficient way. However, both conversational apps and chatbots need to be trained and this takes time and lots of data.

Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Telegram are  natural fit for chatbots. Alternatively, some businesses deploy chatbots in their own branded apps.

Personal experiences at scale

Most websites and apps offer the same experience for every user. Customizing the user interface in a meaningful way for each user would be impossible. 

Instead, a conversational approach lets customers "choose their own adventure." They're in complete control of how they interact with the business or brand. While the first couple of questions are consistent, the conversation will quickly become personalized and unique to each user. 

For example, webviews provide developers with the flexibility to incorporate elements of their webpage experience into their app. Customers can view products, content, and even check out -- all through a conversational dialogue. 

Depending on how the conversation goes, the chatbot pulls in different elements of the website. The chatbot essentially eliminates the need for the traditional interface of a website, because it's all being handled through the chat. You can easily get to this level of personalization by learning chatbot training. If you would like to learn how to train a chatbot, we share with you how to do it.

TLDR chatbots vs conversational apps


  • Text-based
  • Used to simulate a human conversation

Apps and websites

  • Users use graphic user interfaces (GUIs) to interact 
  • Difficult to personalize for each user

Conversational apps

  • Combination of chatbots and apps
  • Make it possible to personalize experiences at scale
  • More user friendly than standalone chatbots and apps 

Are you ready to build your conversational experience? Contact the experts at Hubtype to get started.