Apple’s Handoff: Another Signal the Web is Becoming Appified

This post was originally published on WIRED Innovation Insights on June 13, 2014.

Apple’s recent announcement of Handoff is yet another indicator of the bleak future for traditional websites and the move to apps as the experience of choice on mobile and the web. Web experiences are becoming appified, and it simply isn't good enough to have disjointed web and mobile experiences anymore. Handoff, one of Apple’s new features to improve overall continuity, makes it easier for mobile and desktop apps to work together because apps are the cornerstone on both mobile and the web. Handoff is key to device continuity because it improves overall cross-channel integration and creates unified app user experiences.

 

The Future of Apps is a Shared Experience Between Devices

Handoff reminds me of the Chrome to Phone app that Google released in 2010. This Chrome extension allows users to send content from a web browser to a phone or tablet for later consumption. Handoff is similar in that it passes data back and forth between desktop and mobile apps.

Writing an email is the most salient use case. Let’s say you start replying to an email on your mobile device, but you want to continue on your desktop. You can simply hand off the email from your mobile phone and continue writing it as though you started it on your desktop. Similarly, if you want to add a finishing touch later, you can send it back to your mobile to continue later.

 

Using the Best Device for the Task

With Handoff, there’s recognition that the different devices we rely on serve very different purposes. As app experiences become more involved in our day-to-day lives, it is important to divide the experience into tasks and allow the user to perform those tasks on the best platform for the job. For example:

  • The desktop is great for inputting data, presenting large volumes of information and using lots of computing power. This makes it ideal for tasks such as signing up for a service, searching for a product or playing a graphics-intensive game.
  • The mobile device is optimized for portability and focused tasks. Access to location services enable more personalized interaction.

 

Improving Already Great Experiences: Uber and Shopping Apps

Most apps today -- both mobile and web -- are optimized for their particular platform. With tools such as Handoff, these apps can be optimized across platforms as well.

Take Uber; it’s lauded for its fantastic and innovative experience. The entire process starts and ends on mobile and is very smooth. But could it be improved?

Let’s start with the first step: calling the car. Imagine if, instead of always having to grab the phone to call a car, Uber created a web app to start the process. Whether you’re at home or in the office, you could then click on links in your calendar, email or maps and send a silent push to your device, waking it up and queuing a car. Considering 20 percent of apps are only opened once, imagine the impact this change would have on first-time users who could sign up for an account on their desktop, the best device for that task.

Now let’s talk about the end of the Uber experience, when you’re asked to rate your driver. Today, rating a driver is done through the mobile app, which has the drawback of requiring you to still be in the app; a poor platform for detailed feedback. Uber could improve the experience by including a link to a rating form in the email that you already receive from them. Because many people prefer to read email on their desktop’s web app, providing a cross-platform opportunity could improve the Uber experience.

There is no question that some of the most optimized experiences on the web are shopping sites. Web apps such as BestBuy.com, Target.com, Walmart.com use data to improve their filters and search results. Predictive analytics are used to change the experience based on the specific items you’re looking for. However, the experience becomes disconnected and less optimized when moving to their mobile apps.

The possibility of seamlessly integrating mobile apps into the shopping experience could drastically improve with continuity features like Handoff. With technologies such as iBeacon and geofencing, it is possible for apps to know when you have entered a physical store. In fact, Walmart’s app provides you with sales info specific to the store you are currently in – a great time to send a push message reminding you of a shopping-cart item from your previous browsing session on the desktop. If Walmart uses segmentation to identify you as a customer with a high lifetime value, it would even be possible to notify customer service on their office computers of your presence so that a store representative could greet you.

 

Creating Unified, Cross-device Experiences Using Apps

To create great new experiences that delight customers, developers must enable users to move seamlessly between their phones, tablets, smart TVs and wearables. Apple’s launch of Handoff now makes this even easier thanks to its app backbone so that devices can connect and share information while leveraging the native experience of each device. Given how fast the market is moving, brands and developers would serve themselves well by appifying their mobile and websites to take advantage of the powerful new functionality of Apple’s Handoff.

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