It was a feature that was well-received by developers when announced during the virtual WWDC live stream but hasn’t garnered as much excitement from the non-developer community. The feature I’m writing about is called App Clips, and for the first time, it gives us a view of what the post-iPhone future will look like for the world.
Tucked at the bottom of Apple’s own iOS 14 Preview website, App Clips are a new addition coming to iOS 14 that allows a person to use a micro-feature of a mobile app without that app installed on your phone. John Gruber gave an excellent use case for this on a recent episode of this podcast, “The Talk Show.” Imagine you’re in a parking garage want to pay for your parking, but don’t want to go through the hassle of downloading the garage’s app, setting up an account, adding your credit card information, and paying for your ticket. With App Clips, all you need to do is tap your phone or scan a QR-style code, and the payment portion of the app will appear on your phone, allowing you to pay directly with your credit card info on your phone via Apple Pay.
Without App Clips, the most likely outcome in the scenario above would be to pay via credit card, because the process of using the app would be too cumbersome. App Clips are taking the utility that apps provide to both the user and the vendor, without the unneeded clutter and hassle of using these categories of apps today.
Nobody knows what the post-smart phone future looks like, but every expert agrees that we’re not destined to hold metal and silicon rectangles in our pockets for eternity. We’ve already seen the Apple Watch revolution provide a whole new experience in tracking our health and fitness and performing tasks like paying for groceries, boarding airplanes, and managing smart home features. True, many of these experiences require the phone to be on us, but they can run pseudo-independently without physically interacting with the phone.
Imagine if the future is “smart glasses.” The rumors have all but confirmed that Apple Glasses (dubbed, for now, Apple Glass) are coming likely in 2021. If so, rumors suggest they’ll be similar to the Apple Watch in that they will require tethering to the iPhone to function — you will still need the phone to do a lot of the heavy lifting of processing data. But how will that look five years after launch? The advancements that Apple Watch has made since its 2015 launch are enormous; to expect that by 2025 both the watch and glasses can be completely independent of the phone is not unreasonable.
And this is where App Clips come in. When these devices reach a point of true independence, the way we fundamentally interact with mobile apps will have changed immensely. The idea of collecting apps as we do on our phone will seem archaic, because these smart devices will interact with the cloud, accessing the parts of the mobile app that are needed to conduct a task. Whether it’s utility, like paying for food or services, or leisure, with providing access to maps, restaurant menus, or accessing augmented reality travel guides, the possibilities are endless.
I’m not saying that Apple Glass will be the future, but something will be the future, and that something will rely on a 5G-connected world that leverages the cloud to handle all the processing, machine learning, and data storage that our devices do now.
Lastly, I want to point out that Apple didn’t invent App Clips. Android has had this feature for a while now, dubbed “Instant Apps.” However, just like most things Apple brings to the market, it’s not about first; it’s about doing it best. And Apple is currently the only company suited to bring mass-adoption to this new way of approaching mobile applications because of one thing — their ecosystem. For App Clips or Instant Apps to go mainstream, it has to remove all the friction. Apple’s ecosystem of iOS, watchOS, Apple Pay, iCloud, and Apple ID will all work together to make App Clips eventually become so seamless and engrained in our day-to-day habits that it’ll be hard to imagine a world without them.
This new way of approaching mobile technology shines a brighter light on one of the most fundamental problems of the Android ecosystem that’s only going to get worse over time. Unless Google wrangles more control over the system from OEMs and developers, they’re going to be left behind in this truly connected, post-smartphone world.