Wednesday, July 01, 2020

App Clips: Onboarding for Your Everywhere App

Adam Tierney
Innovation / Technology

For those who have been paying close attention to Apple’s products, you’ll likely have seen some similarities between the big announcements last week and those of the past few years. Features like App Clips, Widgets and Apple Silicon all fit into an emerging picture of what the digital ecosystem will look like over the next 10 years. These big features converge in a few key areas:

  • Software the moment you need it: Apple is breaking down the walls around apps. App Clips, Widgets, and Shortcuts are streamlining the way users interact with apps and anchoring software experiences in the world off the device.
  • One, unified ecosystem: With iPadOS, Catalyst and now Apple Silicon, we’re months away from a world where the one codebase runs on every Apple platform.
  • Privacy minded, user centric experiences: Apple ID, Apple Pay and on device machine learning are powering excellent experiences that are simple for the user. They’re also taking a big stand for users’ privacy.

What do these trends mean for your product roadmap? We wanted to share a few things you can start thinking about today to ensure your success over the long term. To illustrate how this will play out, we’ll look at one of the banner features from WWDC 2020: App Clips.

What are App Clips?

If you still haven’t caught up on the Keynote, you might be wondering what exactly are App Clips? On Monday, Apple unveiled that in iOS 14 apps will have the ability to expose a portion of their application as a “Clip.” These clips will allow users to use a few key features without downloading the whole app. Native apps offer a superior user experience to mobile web with the heavy caveat that you’ve got to download the thing first. This can be a non-starter if you’re out on the go – due to time, network strength, data plan or all of the above. App Clips offers a way for users to benefit from an application’s key value proposition without having to commit to the big download. As you might imagine, Apple provides a simple API to invite your users to download the whole app once they’ve had a chance to try it out.

Where it gets really interesting is with App Clips methods for invocation. Apart from conventional on-device inroads like websites, maps, and messages, App Clips can be launched by scanning a NFC tag, triggered by a Siri Suggestion at a particular location and also launched by scanning a new branded visual code. These invocations allow you to build App Clips into physical space – exposing a useful feature or revealing a brand-new experience in your user’s world.

Cutting Through the Noise

It’s not an accident that App Clips will be shipping alongside Widgets and revamped home screen organization in iOS 14. Competition for your users’ attention has never been greater. With Apple’s app store boasting about 1.85 million apps and great mobile experiences being standard across the web, the value proposition of a mobile app has shifted dramatically over the past 10 years. Users today are looking for apps that fit seamlessly into their lives – bringing the solution to their needs to their fingertips, almost before they thought to ask. 

Instead of fighting for a decreasing share of the user’s limited screen time, the companies that will win the contest for user attention are shifting their focus to experiences that will present themselves to the user at the moment they’re relevant. Siri Suggestions and Shortcuts have introduced the ability for applications to “donate” their users’ actions to the OS to shape a picture of a users’ behavior and needs. I don’t open the Clock app anymore, instead, I tap the notification on my lock screen to tell my phone to wake me at the usual hour.

What if I didn’t need to go looking for the perfect app ahead of time? Adopting App Clips could mean offering your native onboarding experience in the moment they unbox your product or the ability for shoppers to check size inventory while in-store. Great App Clips will weave your product into the users’ world without them thinking twice, demonstrating your product’s relevance at the moment of need.

Native Everywhere

Apple’s announcement that they’ll be shipping their own chip sets in macOS by the end of the year is the latest coup in rapid convergence of mobile and desktop. Before 2020 is through, the same apps you love on your phone will also be running on your desktop. For customers who love the performance and rich feature sets of native experiences, this is a big win and opens the door to a lot of possibilities.

The burden of building across multiple platforms has been a barrier to investment on native experiences, not to mention an incredible advantage of the web. Though Android and Microsoft markets are still a concern for businesses, having unified hardware across Apple unlocks a class of software that hasn’t existed before. Single codebases will be serving native experience across all of Apple’s platforms. These codebases will have access to the powerful feature sets that come with native development along with the comfortable feel and fluidity that comes with platform specific code.

The promise of a unified Apple ecosystem creates a big opportunity for businesses who are able to capitalize on it. However, the range of devices on which your apps can be used span radically different interfaces and it also leaves the door wide open for some pretty awful user experiences. To take advantage of this ecosystem, you’ll want to make sure your app is adaptable to the context it runs in. Deep feature sets will shine a lot brighter on the desktop where it’s easy to navigate quickly while lighter-weight, context specific interactions will provide value on the go. Point-of-need relevance and App Clips will help weave your software into your user’s life out in the world. Great experiences on their phone will demonstrate your product value and pique their interest for a more in-depth experience that sits comfortably in their home.

The User First

Apple continues to take a strong stand on behalf of the user. Recent privacy features like Apple ID, Apple Pay and powerful on device machine learning have set the bar for protecting user’s privacy but also are pushing the boundaries of exceptional user experiences. While each year we watch the rug get pulled out from another broad swath of data capture dark patterns, Apple consistently takes care to ensure that users can have rich, context aware features without sacrificing their privacy. The experiential value of smooth, one-click transactions is self-evident, but we sometimes forget that anxiety about data privacy can be a major detractor from a user’s experience of a product.

App Clips offer some great tools to lean into these features. App Clips use Siri Suggestions to power location-based discovery, so you don’t need to get the user to consent to location sharing to reach them in the right place. While some sensitive data like contacts, health data and files are unavailable to App Clips, other APIs, like location and notifications, have special short-term consents so you can earn the trust of your users incrementally. Once you’ve demonstrated the value of your app to your users, App Clips provides an easy OS supported popover to invite them to download the full version of your app.

App Clips are a first impression. A high premium on fluidity and a clear demonstration of value provide a great opportunity for your product to leverage Apple ID and Apple Pay to deliver effortless experiences. Using App Clips to try and grab screen time or push marketing will likely be unsuccessful. By design, Apple places the ability to use a clip soundly in the user’s hands. The most compelling clips will leverage the features we’ve discussed here to build a product offering that is immediately relevant and a delight for your users to engage with.

Designing a great App Clip for your product is an exercise which will challenge you to pull your value proposition out of your app and into your user’s world. Great App Clips will make your app feel less like a piece of software and more like a new dimension of your user’s reality. OS provided relevancy features and Apple’s privacy centric toolkits will help make building these types of experiences possible. As Apple’s platform expands and the definition of what we think of as “mobile” changes, the opportunity to quickly bridge the gap from your device to an anchor in the real world will become increasingly important. Starting to consider these things today will help your software stay ahead of the curve, and at home on Apple’s ecosystem in the years to come.

Whether App Clips are the right product choice for you and your team will be a conversation specific to your business, but we hope this tour of their features has given you some insight into where they fit in the broader mobile ecosystem. If you want to continue the conversation, drop us a line! We’d love to partner with you to take your mobile products to the next level.

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