Nivedit Majumdar Nivedit Majumdar

Context and Deep Linking as seen by Apple

The overall ecosystem comprising of application creation, software development and optimisations with hardware  is seeing a revolution like never before. Software prowess in the form of context and deep linking promises a new level of intuition and interaction between the end user and the device. Moreover, developments in hardware such as the plethora of sensors and Apple’s latest 3D Touch are indicators of a smoother functioning.

In this regard, I’ll be diving deep into the world of Context – that is dear to all of us here at Emberify –  and Deep Linking, and what are the business and tech strategies that Apple is making in these two fields.

IN TERMS OF CONTEXT

One thing can be seen as evident from the development in the tech sector so far : the age of context is already upon us. Google made the first significant moves in the form of its Google Glass, OK Google and the more recent Now On Tap feature, which promises Contextual interactions like never before.

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Now Apple might not have a lot of Contextual features to its name, but the ones it does have are key Context engines. The Apple Watch makes fitness tracking and monitoring an intricate and intimate affair, and Context might just be the key selling factor for Apple’s wearable.

How so? The focus of the tech juggernauts isn’t mainly on monetising their own products and services, it is enabling others (aka developers) to do so. Developers are already making the most out of the WatchKit and HealthKit platforms, and they are developing applications which digitally study the user and develop graphs and charts based on the readings. Context is at play!

DEEP LINKING

When applications were first developed for the mobile, they were mainly viewed as closed data blocks. There was no global view of applications and their behaviour patterns, which made it all the more difficult for app marketers and developers to reach out to the right audience.

All that changed with the concept of deep linking. Through deep linking, app developers can now develop applications aimed at a more global audience, that can be tied down together through contextual links. Google made the concept of deep linking more popular, through their App Indexing strategies to something as simple as the goo-dot-gl URL shorteners. In fact, deep linking has been beneficial for marketers too, with 15% of all searches on Google in Q1 2015 returning deep links. 

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When it comes to Apple though, things are slightly different. Google has made App Indexing available on iOS for a limited number of applications, but beyond that there haven’t been many significant developments. That is, till WWDC 2015 came.

RECAP: WWDC 2015 AND CONTEXT FOR APPLE

As I’ve mentioned in my earlier article on Proactive Searches, Siri was announced to be more intelligent in the WWDC. This would be accomplished through incorporating more contextual features and functions within the AI engine. But more importantly, was the Deep Link Search API that was announced.

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The chief example showcased at that particular event was when the user would search for ‘Potatoes’, and the search results immediately linked the user to within an application which would show up some recipes revolving around the term. This would imply a native search function embedded within the OS, so the software ecosystem would actually be beneficial for developers as their applications would now have a higher chance of being recognised!

Added to that is the renewed avatar of Siri. Contextual search would also take into consideration the most used applications (a central idea for Instant, incidentally!) in a more contextual approach, which is truly cool, for the lack of more apt terms.

WITH IOS 9

The latest variant of the OS for Apple mobile devices was recently launched, and it features a slew of contextual interactions in the form of deep links. A simple example: linking to a particular sports story within Twitter would earlier open up in the browser, or the user would be redirected from the browser to the particular app. But with a cohesive approach to deep linking that is embedded in iOS 9, the user can simply bypass the interim browser and jump directly to the relevant page/state within the relevant application.

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Why is this beneficial? Primarily, it improves the way in which the user interacts with his/her device, by intelligently analysing the data and redirecting the user to the most relevant content in the most effective way possible. The onus is on accessibility, and navigation, and with contextual approaches such as deep linking, the experience becomes all the more better!

APIs

Three APIs play a key role for app developers when it comes to deep linking (or as Apple calls it, Universal Deep Linking) and Contextual Searches within iOS 9.

1. The first API allows the developer to tell iOS about the content within his/her application. Keywords are specified, and the job of deep linking is taken care of by the OS itself.

2. The second API allows the developers to specify any web content the OS should index via its web crawlers. This allows the OS to display search content for applications that the user does not have installed.

3. The third API allows activity to be indexed. This is of key importance, as it would be tracking the user’s activity and accordingly framing decisions and protocols to enrich the overall mobile and wearable experience for the user.

TO CONCLUDE

All in all, Apple is definitely upping its ante in the Contextual and Deep Linking sectors through iOS 9. Keeping the recent developments in mind, and also considering the renewed interaction strategy of 3D Touch, one can easily predict that the future is bright for Contextual Deep Linking and application development in this sector!

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