Google recently announced a new experiment that enables Android users in the US to “stream” apps through mobile search, without downloading them. Initially partnering with nine apps, including Hotel Tonight, Chimani, Visual Anatomy Free and New York Subway, app streaming means that app content not only appears in Google search results, but users can also open and use the app within the browser.
This works by tapping of a button, called ‘stream’ within the web browser to open up the app. This then enables users to access the app functionality that may not be otherwise available on the web.
Google’s decision to do this is more than just about innovation and demonstrating it’s capabilities with web technologies and streaming. It’s a direct response to the importance that apps now play and the way in which many people use apps to carry out every day tasks, especially when those tasks or services aren’t available via the web, be it mobile or desktop.
This is an evolution of a project Google started two years ago, where it began enabling developers to make open information or key search terms within apps, indexable and thus searchable through its web search engine.
The result of doing this made it easier for mobile users to find apps and the functionality or information they were looking for. We are now seeing Apple doing a similar thing with iOS, where it is bypassing the need for users to go to Google or the App Store to find what they are looking for.
Google is taking its programme a step ahead, and trying to deliver Android users with quicker access to apps they don’t have installed, by streaming the app through the browser. Doing so means that users don’t have to go through the additional steps of downloading apps to their devices they may only use once, or even not use at all.
In some ways, this could be thought of as ‘app try before you install’. Installing apps on devices can take up valuable space, but also a record remains on their account that they installed the device.
Already, 89% of time spent on mobile is in apps. It’s therefore easy to understand the motivations for Google with this project. The more dependent on apps people become, the less likely they may be to turn to Google for answers, which could end up slightly affecting the company in the longer term.
This, of course, is why Google bought and runs Android. It is a way of helping to ensure that it is still front and centre for people and the place they turn to for answers.
So how does Google App Streaming work?
When search results have been surfaced within the Google Chrome App, a ‘Stream’ button will appear to allow the app to ‘run’. Even though the user doesn’t need to install the app, the full functionality of the app will still remain via the steaming process. Providing you have a fast WiFi connection, the user is able to find what they need quickly and easily, as if they were in the app itself. For example, if you are searching for a hotel in Chicago, Google is now able to pull up information from Hotel Tonight and let you find a hotel and book a room.
Here’s how the process would look:
So far, streamed versions of apps are only available via the Google Chrome App running on handsets installed with Android Lollipop.
Recognising the change in consumer behaviour towards the use of mobile apps, companies like Google, Apple and Facebook all understand the need to provide users with a seamless experience between different apps, to view information in an intuitive way. Therefore, over the past few years, initiatives like Google App Indexing, Apple Deep Linking and Facebook App Links have been introduced to allow users to move between apps, much like the web. With this experiment, Google is trying to take this even further by eliminating the barriers between the web and mobile apps.
Still in its early stages, Google App Streaming is unlikely to change the way we find information, however as more and more companies integrate their apps into this service, we will begin to see a web of apps which will revolutionise the way we interact with content.