Yesterday, Google announced a big change in how its search surfaces content locked within apps. In an acknowledgment of mobile's influence in the present and future of the Internet, it is now indexing apps whether or not they have matching content on the traditional Web. Previously, mobile-first companies were essentially penalized for not having content available outside of a mobile app, but now users will be able to find that content much quicker. It's a huge step toward making the navigation of mobile apps as easy as what we currently enjoy on the Web.
Additionally, when Google finds this in-app content but notices you don't already have that app installed on your smartphone, it will allow you to "stream" the app instead of downloading it. This means Google will run the app on a virtual machine in Google's cloud platform and it will respond to your behavior basically the same as it would if native to your phone. This is significant because as apps stand today, they're just tiny boxes on our smartphone screens that behave as independent silos. Although just a start, Google's new ability to get inside these silos could, in theory, lead to a seamless experience of moving app to app similar to how we move site to site on the Web.
A new way to surf.
Get the metaphor? Get it?
The streaming option is only rolling out to a few partners at launch: Hotel Tonight, Weather, Chimani, Gormey, My Horoscope, Visual Anatomy Free, Useful Knots, Daily Horoscope, and New York Subway. However, if and when the technology finds its way into more and more apps, the major gap between Web search and mobile search will become much smaller. Most smartphone users aren't aware there's anything of a problem when it comes to mobile search, but the reality is that an ever-growing pile of apps in the various app marketplaces (mainly Google Play and Apple's App Store) makes it increasingly hard to find specific uses inside apps.
As companies continue to introduce their products solely via mobile apps, this technology will make it miles easier both for them to get their content surfaced via the world's biggest search engine, and for users to find useful information and functionality previously locked inside tiny boxes on their phones. Naturally, a hidden section of the growing Web would be a problem for Google, whose bread and butter has been and always will be search. It can create incredible, futuristic-seeming products, artificial intelligence in Gmail, and an important position in the rising Internet of Things, but without its dominance in search, it's nothing.
This streaming technology is rather new on its own, but built on the idea of "deep linking," which has been around for a while. Simply put, it's surfacing deeper, more specific content within an indexed entity. In the context of a website, that's a unique page within it, and in the context of an app, that's a specific state of the app itself. As a smartphone user, all you really have to know is it's getting easier to find information and functionality you want on mobile. That's good news indeed.
Cover image: Wikimedia