App Streaming and what it means for User Experience




  • App Streaming is a game changer that brings mobile web and applications together in a better way for users.
  • App Streaming has the potential to disrupt Apple’s business model and put more power in the hands of Google, Microsoft and Facebook.
  • If the technology is embraced, it will accelerate adoption of the Connected Car and LFD ecosystems.


Mobile Applications, despite warnings that they were veering to extinction from nearly the moment they appeared, continue to flourish. This leaves many to speculate what the eventual “app killer” will be, when the real question is how they will continue to evolve.


I’ve never understood the “Anti-App” movement, other than when it came from individuals with a vested interest in promoting the browser. Yet, Google and Apple, who in different ways have a vested interest in supporting the browser over an application ecosystem, continue to push the application model as a core foundation of their mobile strategies. In one sense there’s a very simple answer: applications are well understood and embraced by the masses. Never underestimate the strength behind a simple but effective business strategy of giving customers what they want.


Yet, despite the obvious success of applications on mobile there has continued to be a steady stream of dire predictions that the app model will perish and mobile web will rise dominant over all. Of course, looking at anything in such stark terms is dubious. The reality is that there is plenty of room for both rich application and web experiences with consumer appetite far outstripping current availability. Consumers have already evolved to a world where IoT style experiences are welcomed with open arms and demand for newer and bigger experiences is high.


So rather than go down the road of which experience will be more dominant over the next decade, it’s a far more interesting topic to assess how the fundamentals of applications will evolve. Many forget how much the web has evolved in the last quarter century; not only in the technology, but in how people use and consume it. It was once an imperative for companies to “own the desktop” by ensuring that browsers had saved a bookmark icon to the home screen of their computer, enabling one-click access to their website. Today the concept seems ridiculous and is openly mocked as a feature reserved for infants and the elderly… yet once upon a time it was how people understood how interaction to the web should function.


Late last year Google introduced the concept of “Google App Streaming”, with the intent to create ‘The Web of Apps”. Taking the marketing out of the equation, Google App Streaming is a relatively simple concept: Android applications can now appear in Search results, allowing potential installers to try before they download and companies to further expose richer experiences through their search engine. It’s a strong play for Google who improve their search results with an entirely new (but popular) category, provide a new capability for digital advertisers (and their own advertising business) and brings a fundamental user experience change to the application market… which has been relatively unchanged for nearly a decade.


Today Google App Streaming is only available for a limited amount of apps; about 100 right now but a promise that this number will increase rapidly. It’s expected that this market will climb to 100,000 by 2020, according to Raul Castanon-Martinez, an analyst at 451 Research, as reported by Bloomberg. That’s still a far cry from the total number of applications available on mobile, but it’s a large enough volume that it will be apparent to the average user. If the concept takes off, it’s also a safe bet that Apple will not let Google dominate this space alone. Apple generated nearly $6 billion from App Store commissions in 2015 and the advent of app streaming can shift the market to Google’s favor, given their strength in the advertising space.


But brushing aside the business implications for a moment, the user experience consequences of this change cannot be understated. The argument over an app versus a mobile web experience is largely built around the process of how the concept is consumed. From a consumer’s perspective, the technical implementation or app architecture is meaningless… the consumer simply wants access to the content. A mobile web page may provide a quicker experience, while an app might provide a more immersive one. If App Streaming catches on as a concept, the barrier of having to choose one experience over the other largely goes away for the consumer.


Why does this all matter? Because for years now the argument around web versus app has been one based far more on technology than user experience. As a result the discussion has resulted in very little cross-innovation and more often than not an entrenching into the respective technology silos. This has been a boost for both approaches; responsive design and visual effects like parallax have been as significant to mobile web as the rise of gaming and AR has been with mobile apps. But App Streaming has the potential to further level the field for the end consumer: their content is available faster and easier regardless of what it is written in.


This change of thinking is important when we look at connected devices like the connected Automobile or LFD screens like a TV or digital sign. As these ecosystems evolve in the same way mobile has, having a more converged system for content discovery and consumption will help these emerging markets move much faster. While the technology challenges of supporting these systems are and will be daunting, training the driver or the guest in how to consume the experiences doesn’t need to be. App Streaming can be a valuable part improving discoverability and getting people comfortable that the new connected world is an evolution of something they already know, and not something they must rediscover.

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