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iOS 14 could make downloading apps obsolete

ios 14 apps
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

iOS 14 sounds like it's going to give you a new way to use parts of apps without making you go through the trouble of having to first install them on your iPhone.

That's what 9to5Mac has discovered by getting a glimpse at an early build of this year's iOS update. According to the report, iOS 14 includes a new developer tool called Clips that gives app makers the ability to let iPhone users interact with specific parts of their app.

With Clips-built apps, you'll be able to scan a QR code that will then take you to a relevant part of the app, without first requiring a stop at the iOS App Store to download and launch the app. It's also a departure from current QR code-scanning behavior, which opens links in Safari when they're from apps that aren't installed on your phone.

9to5Mac's report describes a scenario where someone shares a link to YouTube video with you. You'd scan the QR code that accompanies the link, and if YouTube's not installed on your phone, the video would still open up in a floating window with an interface that looks like YouTube's native UI. (If YouTube is installed on your phone, presumably you'd have the option to open up that link within the app itself.)

According to 9to5Mac, this Clips feature is currently being tested by YouTube, as well as OpenTable, Yelp, DoorDash and the Second Screen app for PS4. We'd expect to hear more about those efforts at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which is going to be an online-only event in June as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Clips seems like it's being designed to remove some of the hurdles of doing things on your iPhone. It also suggests there might be try-before-you-buy element to Clips, as developers will reportedly to give users the option of downloading the full app if they want.

To me, Clips sounds an awful lot like Apple's take on the Instant Apps feature Google first announced in 2016. That feature, which started rolling out in 2017, let developers break their apps up into small chunks supporting specific activities. That saved Android users from having to hit the Google Play store to grab an app just to perform one specific function.

9to5Mac suggests the feature is more like Slices, which debuted as part of Android 9 Pie. Under Slices, certain functions of an app would appear in Search results. Typing "Lyft," for example, would summon up the ability to call for a ride straight from your search.

iOS 14 is expected to launch this fall alongside the new iPhone 12 models that are slated to come out at that time. We should see an iOS 14 preview at WWDC, though Apple hasn't set a specific date for that June event. We'd expect a public beta of iOS 14 to be available sometime during the summer.