Apple is going after Facebook by letting people talk to businesses in iMessage - here's how it works

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FILE PHOTO -- The audience assembles before the start of Apple's annual developer conference in San Jose, California, U.S. June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo Thomson Reuters

Apple will let businesses communicate directly with their customers in iMessage when iOS 11, the next major software update for iPhone and iPad , is released this fall.

"With Business Chat, your customers can connect with you, have personalized conversations and even make purchases with Apple Pay," Apple says on a webpage that asks businesses to register for the upcoming feature.

The iPhone maker originally teased that Business Chat was coming earlier this week, but shared more about how the feature works during a presentation at its conference for developers on Friday.

Business Chat for iMessages is a direct shot at social apps that encourage people to use so-called chat bots, namely Facebook Messenger. We've reached out to Facebook for comment.

Here's how Business Chat will work in iMessage:

iOS 11 Business Chat Apple

  • Any user of iOS 11 will be able to start a support chat thread with businesses they find through Siri, Maps, Safari, and Spotlight search.
  • "Customers can ask questions, schedule appointments, make purchases, and more," by talking directly to businesses in the Messages app, according to Apple. All purchases are handled through Apple Pay.
  • Businesses will be able to let customers schedule events using their personal calendars and show lists of products for people to choose from.
  • If customers need more information that can't be delivered via text, businesses can prompt them to download standalone apps. iMessage extensions are also supported for more complex tasks, like selecting a seat in a concert venue.
  • Business Chat will integrate with several top customer support platforms, including Salesforce, Genesys, Nuance, and LivePerson.

Customer support bots have been Facebook's best hope for monetizing Messenger and WhatsApp to date. Messenger's early chat bots were largely convoluted and underwhelming, but the app has taken recent steps to make them simpler and more accessible.

WhatsApp is testing its own customer support system for businesses but has yet to make it available broadly. Such chat bots are already widely popular in Asian social apps like Tencent's WeChat.

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