Have you heard about Mini Apps or Apple’s new App Clips feature? I think these technologies have a way to dramatically improve the mobile experience if you can take advantage of them. Both concepts are relatively new, with Apple’s App Clips becoming available in IOS 14 this month (see our Prepare Your App for IOS 14 introduction). Snapchat introduced Mini Apps in 2020 as well. Before jumping into why these new technologies will become important, let’s discuss the current state.
A Good Experience could be better
I find it frustrating when mobile apps aren’t nicely connected and they force me to spend extra effort to get things done. As an example, take a look at the mobile experience provided by the iPhone’s Map application. Let’s say you want to order from a local restaurant. So you open the map app and search for nearby restaurants. You locate one, click on the location symbol, and the map app displays the Directions button prominently on the screen as shown in the first image here. If you scroll far enough down, you might find a website link, a phone number, or other information about that location.
While this Map experience is better than more manual alternatives, it still leaves me wanting more. What about providing more actions in the Map app? Since I found a restaurant, one of the obvious actions is to place an order. Another is to make a reservation. A third might be to quickly look at their menu to see if I like anything. The only way I can get to the actions is to find a link to their site and start navigating through a series of pages.
Why are none of these actions readily available inside the Map app? You could rightfully argue that none of these capabilities are the responsibility of the Map app, right? The map app has enough to do already!
App Clips to the rescue
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Apples’ App Clips are mini-apps that are embedded in your mobile app and can be surfaced independently of the full mobile application. As an example, assume you are Panera Bread and have built a mobile app that includes an ordering feature. You can now (in IOS 14) build an App Clip that can surface your ordering feature without first requiring the user to download your full app. Apple can embed this clip into the experiences of other applications, making it quick and easy to spread your capabilities around.
Here is an example using the Map app and a Panera Bread App Clip. In the first image, you can see that in addition to the Directions button, the Map app also displays an Order Food button.
When you click on the Order Food button, the Panera menu opens as an App Clip allowing you to quickly place an order. You don’t have to open the full Panera mobile app, and you don’t have to open a web page and then navigate to the ordering page.
In addition to taking action, App Clips include the ability to pay using Apple Pay instead of asking for credit card info. You can even use Apple security to sign-in to your app without prompting with a form to fill in.
There are all sorts of ways App Clips can be called up within IOS 14. Apple identifies using NFC Tags, QR Codes, Safari App Banner, Links within messages, and, as we have seen, in Place Cards in Maps.
The impact on customer experience can be enormous
Imagine the impact this type of technology can have on our customer’s experience. How often do customers navigate through a place card in Maps or click a link in Safari, only to be asked to spend time downloading our app or have to navigate through a web app? Instead of getting lost in a maze of clicks, the customer can quickly accomplish key tasks on our mobile apps.
You should think about how to create these mini-apps that will drive true customer value. Ordering food is an obvious example, but what other mini-app experiences could you create for your customers? I think the possibilities are vast.
Our ability to drive engagement can be dramatically improved
One use of the App Clip that is often cited by others is the ability to highlight information about your mobile app in a clip and provide a quick way to download or open the full app experience. While this can be an important use of App Clips, I think it is a limited vision of their potential. The real potential wins include the ability to promote our brand, provide meaningful information to the user more quickly, and making it easier for a customer to engage with our products or services.
While we could wait for developers of other apps to include links to our app, or provide a more connected experience, why wait for that? App Clips gives you a way to control how your app can be surfaced and connected. While these connections are mostly limited to Apple-specific apps at the moment, it would be great for this capability to expand to other developers.