Native applications have overthrown Web browsers as the main resource for obtaining information, entertainment and so much more. This comes as disheartening news to the most prominent search engine on the planet, Google, and puts the company in a rather unique situation.
To help combat this imminent threat, Google acquired a small startup called Agawi in June of 2015. Google gobbled up the thriving small business because it developed a technology that would allow for mobile apps to be streamed over the Web without the need to download them first.
Google announced in mid-November that it would begin to utilize this newly inherited technology on its search engine. Google is now in the experimental phase of introducing content found solely on mobile applications to the SERPs. Additionally, when this type of information is displayed, there is no longer a need to actually download the application — Google will provide the alternative option to stream the app. And this does not imply that the big G will point users to a mobile Web version of the application. The apps will actually be running on servers in Google’s cloud and will be sent to mobile devices. In order to be eligible for this app streaming privilege, however, users must have phones in the U.S. that are connected to Wi-Fi and are operating under Android Lollipop or Marshmallow.
Currently, the new streaming option and augmented indexation of the app’s content is limited to only a select few partners; Hotel Tonight, Weather, Chimani, Gormey, My Horoscope, Visual Anatomy Free, Useful Knots, Daily Horoscope, and New York Subway. These partners were chosen after showing interest in testing out Google’s new app indexing function when it was revealed at Google’s developer conference.
For the past two years, however, Google has been indexing content housed inside mobile applications in an effort to remain relevant in the face of the growing use of native applications. In that time, Google expanded its indexing operations and ability to uncover “deep links,” which are links that point to pages contained in apps, to reach past early adopters and index apps across iOS ad Android alike. According to Google, thousands of apps, along with 100 billion links, have been indexed.
Rajan Patel, the director leading the Google app indexing team, spoke on the matter stating, “In the U.S., it’s more often the case that content is both on the Web and in an app mainly because the U.S. market evolved from being a desktop Internet market and then migrated over to mobile. But there are some apps – even in the U.S. – that have app-only content. We want users to be able to have access to this content, regardless of whether it’s available on the web or in an app.”
As mentioned above, the popularity and usage of native applications rises each year. In fact, apps have become so dominant that 86 percent of people’s time spent on mobile devices is consumed by applications. And despite the fact that more than half of all Google searches take place on a mobile device, this is still disconcerting to the search giant as platforms like Twitter and Facebook improve their search capabilities in an effort to take Google’s mantle. Without people constantly turning to Google for queries on anything and everything, their ad business could potentially significantly slump. This is why it has become so crucial for Google to be able to index and display in-app information; to keep people coming back.
The idea here is that displaying in-app or app-only content that allows users to stream applications instead of downloading them will provide incentive to use Google’s services on a platform where its dominance may be slipping. Additionally, if people are searching queries through Google as opposed to HotelTonight, it allows the search engine to continue to sell ad space to the organizations and remain profitable.
What This Means for App Developers
This news has a grim side for app developers. While this does provide the opportunity for increased exposure and awareness, it gives users little incentive to actually download the application. If an app’s most valuable information can now be displayed in Google’s search results, there will be less motivation to download the app. Information-only based applications will have to up their games.
If Google expands this project to become large-scale the only way that users will still see the benefit to downloading an application is if they deem the app to contain enough value to be used on a regular basis. Alternatively, apps could manage to still remain relevant and fruitful if an offering can be conceived that Google cannot grant, such as offline access to content.
Ultimately, applications must undergo a revolutionary evolution if they wish to remain dominant on mobile devices. And while Google’s streaming test is still very much in the beta phase and does not show signs of scaling up anytime soon, the decision will hinge on users’ reactions to the new streaming option.
How do you think Google’s new offerings will impact the app industry as a whole?