App Clips arrived in a blaze of glory – so why don’t we see more of them?

During the reveal and release of iOS 14, App Clips were one of the big new features that took centre stage. The premise was a new category of app that was temporary and task-specific. Use cases currently suggested by Apple include renting a bike, paying for parking and ordering food.

As a concept, this works well with the way people use their phones. Because App Clips can utilize Apple Pay, you no longer have to source, install and work with a standalone app to make a payment – instead, you can run an App Clip, which at a maximum of 10MB in size downloads in seconds on any reasonable cellular connection.

Apple’s been smart in how App Clips can be discovered too. You can trigger them by tapping NFC tags, scanning QR codes, or launching them from Apple Maps. They can be shared via Messages as well; for example, if a friend has used a parcel service to ship you a gift, they could send an App Clip to help you track its progress, rather than you having to navigate your way through a website or deal with yet another app.

Given that App Clips are a great idea, it’s curious that they aren’t more commonplace. In part, growth has likely been stymied by COVID reducing many of the more obvious use cases – paying in restaurants; ad-hoc rentals; parking after traveling somewhere new. On that basis, there are likely many people who’ve never even experienced an App Clip.

Fortunately, there is one use case – and likely one not anticipated by Apple – that gives you the opportunity to see how App Clips work: app and game demos. Smart developers are aware there is friction in convincing someone to install an app – but when the only barrier between you and a taste of their product is a tap, that friction is eradicated.

The most famous example of an App Clip demo is for Phoenix II. Use your iPhone to visit the website for this high-octane arcade blaster, and you’ll spot a banner at the top of the page. This resembles banners you might have seen before that take you to the App Store to install a product; here, though, you’re instead invited to play. Tap the relevant button and seconds later you’ll be guiding a lone fighter through waves of bullet-happy foes.

Get to the end and you’ll be invited to install the entire game. Quit the App Clip and you can find it again in App Library if iOS 14 hasn’t yet purged it (which happens after a period of disuse). It’s a smart, friendly process, and one a handful of other apps have taken advantage of, including Chibi Studio, Kontax Cam and Unwind.

App Clips feel like a success story waiting for their moment. If the original thinking behind them hasn’t yet taken hold in a widespread manner, it’s great to see enterprising app creators providing an alternate use case. Either way, we hope to see more App Clips in 2021, because these little apps should be a big deal.