The Convergence Of Mobile Apps & Search Is Happening. Get Ready!
Weather forecasters often talk ominously of “convergence zones,” the areas where two flows of fast moving air come together to create interesting weather patterns.
If I were to put on my weather forecaster hat to predict the future of search, I’d say we’re sitting right in the middle of a convergence zone between the web and the fast-growing state of native mobile apps.
These two forces are coming together quickly, and when they do, the future of search will be incredibly interesting. But what does interesting mean, exactly?
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen two announcements that help paint an exciting picture.
First, Google announced a partnership with Uber where a link would be placed into Google Maps for iOS and Android to pick up an Uber when requesting walking directions.
You can now find out if an Uber is available in your area to drive you to your destination, see the time it will take to reach your destination and, with one-click, be placed into Uber to fulfill the request.
Second, Facebook announced a new initiative dubbed App Links, entering them into the world of deep-linking and potentially native search. Because finding and linking to content within apps is difficult, Facebook decided to open source the initiative to help make it easier — potentially helping to build the equivalent of what HTTP+HTML did for web search.
How Do These Announcements Show Us The Future Of Search?
To understand how these two announcements affect the future of search, it’s important to think about what makes the web as great as it is and what makes native apps so compelling to consumers.
On the web, we have a beautifully simple software architecture and open protocols (namely HTTP+HTML) that bind pages and sites together simply, yet powerfully. It also happens to allow for easy crawling by search engines, exposing all the content to the entire world — machines and humans alike.
This architecture has allowed us to scale to hundreds of billions and trillions of web pages, each fully indexable by search engines which could then make smart analyses of the graph and provide intelligent search results to consumers.
Compare that to mobile, where the protocols are closed; there are multiple competing (and viable) platforms which don’t speak to each other, and almost all content is behind gated walls. Even with these problems, mobile experiences tend to be better, simpler and more relevant than web experiences.
On mobile, we have access to — and expect — real-time experiences, geo-targeted by location. The web doesn’t even come close to these types of complete, immersive experiences.
This is why, at least on mobile, native will continue to win, even compared to more advanced web frameworks such as HTML5. Native experiences are better, consumers spend more time in them, and they are more strategic to platform owners (namely Apple and Google) which will fight to keep them ahead of web standards.
There’s a reason why over 80% of time on mobile is spent in native apps — consumers prefer what they get from native apps, and search will become no exception.
If we’re sitting in the convergence zone of web and mobile then, the future of search needs to be the convergence of these two opposed, yet equally powerful, experiences.
The future of search must pull in the best of both worlds to provide a huge data set of immersive and relevant results: an easy-to-index graph of app content shown in a beautiful interface with relevant, real-time and geo-targeted results.
If we think we have this today on the web, it will pale in comparison to what will be possible when the web and mobile converge.
Imagine being able to search your device for [taxi] and see all of the following: the phone number in your contact list for your favorite taxi dispatch; emailed receipts from past Lyft rides; exact information on how long it will take Uber or UberX to reach you at your current location right now with one-click results to order one; and the most authoritative information on Taxi, the ’80s TV series.
Or imagine searching for [thai food] and having all the closest restaurants show up — but also with one-click access to making reservations at each of them on OpenTable — alongside your favorite Thai food recipes from your favorite recipe apps and general information on Thai food and its history from the web.
It’s a bold vision and one that wouldn’t be possible without the convergence of web and mobile happening at a fast rate.
This Convergence Is Happening… Now
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this incredible future is that it’s happening right now. The plumbing for this vision is being put into place as we speak, and developers and marketers can start to take advantage soon. We can see this from both Google+Uber as well as App Links.
Google+Uber is a great example of an app-to-app relationship that ultimately would include some back-end integration to query for local wait times for an Uber from within Google Maps.
It’s unclear whether/how that relationship is happening today; but, it is clear that we’re well on our way to a world of interconnected apps. It’s this type of delightful, integrated experience in a targeted, engaged context that makes the announcement so exciting.
App Links, on the other hand, begins to open our eyes — and our content — to the possibilities of a fully indexable and (at least partially) open ecosystem, bringing together the web and mobile.
Not only does it enable seamless deep-linking between apps (complete with fallbacks to the web if necessary), but it also allows for apps to display their content — and its location — via the already indexable web.
Put these two things together and we complete the vision for search in the future: amazing, relevant experiences with simple, indexable content available to all.
It’s not a huge stretch to think about building a dual-crawler for a search engine that would include a real-time crawler and non-real-time crawler. During our search for [thai food], the real-time crawler could call directly to OpenTable’s URL with parameters for the location [Madison Park, Seattle, WA] and food type [thai] while the non-real-time crawler would have all the recipes and history information stored already.
The search engine could then bring all these results back together providing grand results that include each of these types of results, complete with deep links to great app experiences.
Amazingly, this is all technically possible today; the only barriers are a search engine to display results like this and apps/sites to adopt App Links in this way.
Who Wins In This Situation?
Given this future of search, who are the big winners? In my opinion, there are very few losers and almost all winners.
Marketers, developers, and publishers win because ultimately this is a better search experience, and better search experiences result in higher engagement and conversions.
Search engines win because this future search world increase users’ likelihood to search, ultimately leading to more revenue for the search engines. Interestingly, Facebook has an opportunity to supplant Google as the de facto mobile search engine because of their support and adoption of App Links.
In fact, Facebook is already indexing this content as quickly as they can through their Facebook App Link Index. Given their focus on mobile — and vast install base on cross-platform mobile devices — Facebook could build a search engine for the mobile age, disrupting Google before Google has the opportunity to do the same.
But, most importantly, users win because of the enhanced experience, faster access to more relevant results, and the fact that this ultimately makes mobile search more useful.
The world changes quickly, and these changes could happen faster than we ever thought possible. The plumbing is almost done; now, the time has come for adoption. The convergence zone we’re currently sitting in between web and mobile is going to provide exciting changes and advances in search.
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