A future without apps? Google app streaming makes it possible!
In November 2015, Google prototyped app streaming on a few select apps. Now it seems to be available for many apps in the Google mobile search results. App Streaming – it does exactly what it sounds like; instead of installing applications like we are used to, you tap a link to the content and Google will stream the right parts of the app to you on-demand. No need to install it, because you’re already running it.
Why Google is doing this? Jan Dawson, principal analyst at Jackdaw Research, said in an interview, “One reason why it’s investing so heavily in app indexing, and now streaming, is that it reasserts the dominance of the Web and search.” It fits well with Google’s overall strategic objective of reasserting the Web over the app as the fundamental model for interacting with content on mobile devices. Google aims to break down ‘walls’ around apps, and if successful, this would make the future without mobile apps possible!
Why Mobile Apps Succeeded?
When Apple announced the iPhone in 2007 and the App Store a year later, it gained almost complete control of the mobile experience. Apps moved people away from relying on web browsers and Google search – hence trademarked slogan that defined the mobile world since 2008 “there’s an app for that.”
To understand how much control Apple has over the mobile experience, consider how three quarters of Google’s mobile revenue – nearly $9 billion – came from iOS. After payments to developers, Apple’s revenue share from the App Store last year was approximately $6.4 billion. A new IDC report published recently stated that Apple’s App Store “ecosystem” captured nearly 58% of global direct app revenue in 2015, an increase of 36% year over year.
Apple was the first to popularize the idea of nicely packaged, downloadable applications on mobile, but this concept was not new. Many handheld and desktop devices already had some form of application store built in years before Apple’s App Store debut, such as Nokia 770 Internet Tablet and Linux distribution Ubuntu. Why Apple stand out? Good timing and developing technology. At that time, the iOS was able to offer a combined platform with a supportive development environment, access to a maturing 3G network and surely backing of a technology giant. Mobile apps became the most efficient way to deliver the newest content and services with native experience and performance.
The “web” of information has given way to “stores” of apps, URLs and hyperlinks to homescreen icons and push notifications. The ability to download and run cool apps was the iPhone’s winning feature for a short while. Android soon followed up. It stepped into the mobile Apps Era.
The Web Of Apps Begins
With all technological changes, some things that users find valuable are lost and the rise of mobile Apps is no different. Values such as convenience, ubiquity and low cost generally win out, even if some of the results are inferior to what came before them. Since smartphone users spend most of their time within apps rather than on a mobile browser, the foremost casualty of the mobile era could well end up being the open web – the very place where Google thrives. That’s why Google started to pushing Google App Indexing.
Google App Indexing was launched in October 2013 for a limited set of publishers. It was expanded for use by anyone in June 2014. In May 2015, support for iOS via Chrome was added. In October 2015, Google announced support for app indexing within Safari. Google App Indexing lets people to click from listings in Google’s search results into apps on their Android and iOS smartphones and tablets.
But Google search works only if it can crawl a web page that mirrors the information in an app, so such indexing requires the content provider to actively put effort into implementing it –and that is not always the case, particularly in countries that have grown up on mobile internet access. Furthermore, Google cannot take searchers to information inside an app – unless the user already has that app installed on his phones.
That’s far from ideal. If people were required to install apps for all the sites they regularly visit through web searches, it could undoubtedly occupy a great quantity of mobile storage. More important, it would transform that effortless activity that we all depend on into a time-consuming morass littering our phones with apps we no longer need – exactly opposite of how most web-based content work.
App Streaming: Let’s Get Rid of Apps
How to solve the barrier? With app streaming, Google will effectively broadcast what you’re looking for within an app, without requiring you to download it at all. When a user clicks on a link from a mobile search page to information that resides in an app, that app launches on one of Google’s own servers and is streamed down to the mobile, thus creating the illusion that the app is running locally.
This new app-streaming model solves two problems for consumers: It includes content from within apps the user hasn’t installed and which would otherwise be absent, and it allows the user to access the content within the app in a familiar app-like context, without having to permanently install the app. You go from a five-step flow that leaves you having to do your search all over again to a single-step flow that retains context and leaves your device in the same state as when you started. It’s actually very consumer-friendly.
I don’t want to maintain a walled garden of apps, but I want to consume and create content. App streaming mitigates this significantly, while giving you the option of installing the app if you like it enough to want to give it a permanent home on your device. Users need a really seamless interface to browse, shop and buy, to go through each part of the customer journey and the fact is that these things exist across mobile apps and the web – users need to easily access both.
With Google streaming apps to your phone, we may have just entered the beginning of a future where the border between “website” and “mobile app” is blurred. And now, it’s starting to become more mainstream.
This is a future without apps. Enjoy!