The implications of Google's announcement last week that it had developed a way to stream apps via mobile search without the need to download the app are beginning to sink in.
This is more than just a way for users to have more room on their screens, for starters. And where the heck did Google pick up that technology? More importantly, where else will it apply it?
Mobile's Post-PageRank Era?
The technology involved — what little is known about it, that is — runs the app on a virtual machine in Google's cloud. Google is able to transfer device level input, such as touches, taps and possibly even sensor input, to the cloud. Then it streams the app to the user's own mobile device.
Here, kudos must be given to London-based analyst Sameer Singh, who flagged how innovative — and far reaching — Google's experiment really is, in commentary he contributed to Tech-Thoughts.
Now that Google has demonstrated it can stream apps via mobile search, it is easy to speculate what the next step will be: namely, streaming iOS apps, he wrote.
"If Google is already indexing both iOS and Android apps, and can stream apps (at scale) from virtual machines running in their cloud, what stops them from streaming iOS apps to Android users (or vice versa)?"
"Does this have the potential to break down the boundaries between mobile platforms, much like the web did so many years ago? Can this usher in a 'post-Pagerank' era for mobile? How would this affect competitive dynamics for platforms and OEMs?"
Singh didn't have the answers but the questions highlight just how far reaching this development is.
Yippee! More Mobile Screen Real Estate
Such long-term implications were not as apparent when Google made its announcement on Nov. 18.
Per its usual MO, it announced via a blog post that it had been experimenting with an Android feature that allows users to stream app content via mobile search without having to download the actual app, with the proviso they are on a good WiFi network.
For users it would be a good thing — now they don’t have to give up precious screen real estate just to check out one app, Jennifer Lin, an engineering manager at Google and the blog post's author, pointed out.
It does sound convenient.
A user looking for, say, hotels, on Google search will able to pull up apps as well as linked content in the search results, she wrote. There will be a “stream” option next to the app and when the user clicks on it, he’ll receive a streamed version of the app. Back to that hotel example, Lin wrote that the user could even book a room via the streamed version.
The new streaming option is only enabled for a few of the apps, including Hotel Tonight, Weather, Chimani, Gormey, My Horoscope, Visual Anatomy Free, Useful Knots, Daily Horoscope and New York Subway.
Deep Linking Too
Google, of course, is well aware of consumers' steady drift to mobile first and in some cases, mobile only. It has been indexing apps and their content for the last two years to develop deep links — links that can point a user to content on a page within an app — for these apps. Fast forward to today: it has indexed more than 100 billion deep links to these apps, Lin wrote.
'A New Cloud-Based Technology'
But out of Lin’s 300 or so word blog post, the most interesting part was this sentence: The new streaming app service "uses a new cloud-based technology that we're currently experimenting with."
Whaaa? Google, you may have heard, is competing hard in the cloud.
Last week it announced it tapped VMware co-founder and former CEO Diane B. Greene to head up its cloud business, with the goal of integrating product, engineering, marketing and sales.
The streaming app technology, though, is an entirely different initiative — and one that Google appears to have put in motion sometime in 2014.
Who is Agawi?
Reportedly that is when Google quietly acquired a company called Agawi, which specializes in mobile streaming apps.
And quiet the deal has remained. Agawi's Twitter accounts have remained silent and its Facebook page not updated since 2013, but the deal didn't get noticed until this June when The Information broke the story.
The secretiveness around the acquisition makes one wonder what else Google is up to in the cloud that it hasn't yet revealed?