Finding the Missing Link: Connecting Apps


Vall Vinai
Staff Writer

We often take the internet’s universal accessibility for granted; within seconds, we can send friends and family important links. The World Wide Web is made up of four billion different but interconnected web pages, each identified with a URL. This URL lets us to link a Web page to anyone—so long as they have the Internet.

However, today’s flourishing app market can’t boast the same ease and accessibility as the Internet. Unlike web pages, mobile apps don’t have links.

For example, if you were using the TripAdvisor app to scope out potential vacation sites for a trip, you’d be unable to link the find to a friend from within the app. Similarly, if you were using the Target app to browse for furniture, you wouldn’t be able to link what you’ve found to your roommate.

That’s why tech companies—from industry giants to start-ups—are working to bring the concept of links into today’s mobile apps. These tech companies are hoping that apps can be more interconnected in the future, much like the way web pages are.

“Google’s whole concept is we’re going to index the world’s information, but they’ve left out a whole lot of stuff: all the stuff that is inside apps,” said Alex Austin, chief of Branch Metrics, a start-up tech company in California.

This is a concept called deep-linking. Deep-linking allows mobile apps to be interconnected in a similar way to the linking feature on the Internet.

Currently, the linking option in apps is very limited. There are only two options: linking from a webpage to the app store to download the app, and linking a webpage URL to open an already-installed app. This restricts the capability of users to link others to relevant content.

The solution to this problem is to assign apps with some sort of identifiable link. Both start-ups and tech-giants such as Google, Apple, and Microsoft, are racing to find a solution. Overcoming this hurdle would be a huge achievement, which is why start-ups are competing to solve the problem before tech-giants.

“Whoever gets the best database will win the game,” Austin said.

However, the fast-paced competition is becoming a problem. The most efficient way to link apps is to have one generic, widely-functional standard to have app developers adopt to. Competing companies are introducing too many deep-linking standards.

“Once we’re all using the same plumbing, everyone can go and build businesses and interesting experiences on top of that,” said Eddie O’Neil, a Facebook product manager working on App Links, Facebook’s deep-linking program.

Regardless, with all of these companies working for the same outcome, the app market will eventually become interconnected.

“People will lose a bit of their stronghold, but it will be unstoppable,” Sam Altman, president of Y Incubator said.