One of the iOS 14 features Apple highlighted in its new-format WWDC keynote was App Clips: a really quick way to download just enough of an app to carry out a specific task, like paying for a car parking space.

An interesting take by PC Mag suggests that the feature is just the first step into a new approach made possible by the 5G iPhones we’ll be getting later this year …

Having to download, install, and register an app just for a single-use is one of the more annoying facets of modern life, and App Clips seem a really good solution. Just hold your phone near an NFC tag, or scan a QR code; use Sign in with Apple to avoid the need to register and add a credit card; and just do the thing.

App Clips themselves don’t need 5G. Apple requires them to be 10MB max, so they will download quickly on existing LTE networks. But PC Mag’s Sascha Segan sees them as just the start.

Back in 2007, Steve Jobs famously quoted Wayne Gretzky in saying “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” And the puck is most definitely going to be in 5G […]

I’d posit that App Clips are just the start of a new paradigm of app development that will become richer with 5G. With App Clips, Apple developers have to start thinking about what code actually needs to reside on a device, and I suspect they’ll be handed new APIs to access executable code that lives in the cloud. As 5G networks become more widespread from 2021 into 2023 and beyond, more apps are going to start with clips […]

The 5G transition is going to take years, and end users may not even notice that their apps are slowly shifting into the cloud. They’ll notice more free space on their devices, or less expensive devices because they need less storage, and they’ll notice that their experience with apps becomes more fluid, with apps flowing in and out of their lives as needed.

Segan acknowledges that 5G networks don’t yet have anything like the reach needed to make this new approach feasible today, but says that Apple is already skating in this direction.

We’re going to hear more about Apple’s 5G vision at its iPhone announcement this September, I think. But until the 5G networks themselves provide a new level of performance at decent coverage, Apple probably won’t play the feature up. Instead, it will start shifting its developers over into 5G-friendly paradigms so that when the new networks do hit big, Apple is there.

He says that although Android has had essentially the same feature since 2016 – branded as Instant Apps – the idea hasn’t yet taken off. Without Apple on board, businesses likely decided it would just be too confusing to have it work for some customers but not others.

Now that Apple is not just offering the feature but giving it prominence, it seems likely to go mainstream this year. Given Apple’s enthusiasm for all things cloud, I do think Segan is right that this is likely a direction rather than a destination.

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