Apple's mobile deep linking set to shake up app experience

Apple revealed a new mobile deep linking search feature for iOS 9 at WWDC. How can development teams use it to their advantage? Also in Searchlight: CEO of Twitter steps down; the smart oven arrives.

Apple smart devices are about to get, well, smarter. At the 2015 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple unveiled upgrades for its iOS mobile operating system that seek to revamp the mobile experience.

Highlights from WWDC include improved Apple Maps, the introduction of a new music streaming service and a better Siri. Perhaps the most radical feature introduced, however, is the new search API on iOS 9 based around deep linking technology.

Apple's mobile deep linking technology will let users search on their devices for not only apps or Web content -- which is supported by the current iOS version -- but also content within the apps, opening up a whole new set of cross-linked results. Essentially, it makes app screens behave like indexed pages on websites. This creates a "much more personalized, contextual drive around what a mobile experience is on today's phones," according to Forrester Research analyst Michael Facemire.

How deep should developers go?

While clearly beneficial to users, the new search API is also a potential boon for mobile app development teams, analysts said. It gives them the opportunity to catalogue and link out their apps, making their content more discoverable.

"UX designers and app developers need to think about what content to expose through the new API," wrote Mike Gualtieri, principal analyst at Forrester, in an email. "Firms that expose the right content will make their apps stickier and improve the user experience for Apple apps."

This increased visibility means that businesses have to think about their applications in much more of "an activity stream perspective," as Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney put it, in order to get the right content in front of users.

To do this, developers need to ensure that parts of their app can act as "landing points" since the traditional home screen of an app will no longer always be the first point that people see when arriving at their app via deep linking, according to Facemire. Mobile development teams therefore have the tough job of treating each touch point within a customer-facing app as a potential user starting point.

Widespread, fast-moving shift in mobile ecosystem

The concept of deep linking isn't new to Apple -- in iOS 8 the company offered app extensions that allowed third-party apps to interact with each other -- but the announcement of this new search API marks the latest move in a widespread shift towards a more linked, user-derived and proactive mobile app ecosystem.

Apple's latest feature borrows from deep linking-centered startups like Quixey, DeepLink, URX and Button, who all create services that index and link content within apps. One of the tech giant's main competitors in the deep linking war, however, is another tech giant: Google. The Google Search app recently started showing search results from inside other Android and iOS apps -- even pointing users to relevant apps they can download.

Unlike Google's search app, however, Apple's deep linking is actually being integrated into iOS itself, which could prove to be a distinct advantage.

Privacy, what privacy?

With the convenience of mobile deep linking also comes apprehension over the perennial issue with digital communication: data privacy. Apple assured users that no one app should know what other apps are installed on your device and that links are handled on-device and not sent out to the Internet. This appears to be in accordance with Apple CEO Tim Cook's recent show of support for consumer privacy rights.

But protecting that deep-linked information may prove more complicated than that. Deep linking technology makes mobile searches much more powerful, but in order for app links to mirror Web links, deep links hold information about where a user came -- information that's run through third-party apps.

"When you're connected to all these things, you don't know what you're really connected to," said Dulaney.

CIO news roundup for week of June 8

Here are more technology headlines from the week:

  • After a big shake-up in the top management team last year, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo continues the trend this week with the announcement of his departure from the company. "The situation at Twitter must be much worse than it appears, as replacing the CEO is such a big step," Gartner analyst Brian Blau told The New York Times.
  • Top U.S. tech companies sent a letter to the Obama administration warning against imposing new policies they feel would "undermine encryption as an available and effective tool."
  • Imagine a tiny, bio-compatible robot entering your body, performing surgery guided from afar, and harmlessly dissolving away. You might not have to imagine for much longer -- a group from MIT is turning science fiction into fact with new shape-shifting, wafer-thin robots.
  • Make way for smart appliances. It was announced this week that "June," one of the first countertop smart ovens, will be available to the public next spring. Features include a built-in camera that uses deep learning technology to determine what kind of food you are trying to make and then give suggestions.
  • Popular retailer Sam's Club is stocking its shelves with several different models of consumer drones this holiday season. The target audience: small business owners. Sam's Club has found that roughly half of the customers buying drones from its stores do so with professional goals in mind.

Next Steps

For more on mobile deep linking and application integration, read how one startup is taking on the future of mobile through deep linking technology. Then, find out the key role APIs play in innovation.

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