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Someone, Please, Explain: WTF Are App Clips Exactly?

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I... just don’t get it.
I... just don’t get it.
Screenshot: Apple

The lack of applause breaks during this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote meant updates to Apple’s new operating systems whizzed past us at a carpal tunnel-inducing speed. It also meant that Apple zipped through the huge changes coming to iOS 14. Specifically, we were left wondering: Wait, what the fuck are App Clips?

App Clips, apparently, are Apple’s version of Instant Apps on Android. At least this is what Gizmodo’s resident phone guru Sam Rutherford tried to explain. Unfortunately, I have less than zero clues as to how Instant Apps work as 1) I only use my Pixel 4 for transcribing notes and testing the odd gadget; and 2) some Android users in our office were also flummoxed that this was a feature that exists.


During the keynote, App Clips were thematically introduced as a distillation of the old, “There’s an app for that,” tagline. From the video, it would appear App Clips are lil pop-up cards that... pop up when you need to do something that a normal app would do? Apple explained that the card is a type of app shortcut, where you don’t have to actually download an entire app to use the functionality in that app. A Lite version of an app, if you will.


It would also appear that App Clips use visual code and NFC to let you know when a business supports App Clips. It would seem that Apple had transactions in mind when developing App Clips, as it supports Apple Pay and Sign-in with Apple.

I get all of this—but, reader, I still do not understand why I would want to use App Clips.

If it’s a matter of simplifying contactless payments, usually there’s a handy little Apple Pay sign at the register and then I can just proceed to use Apple Pay on my phone as I have always done. So, in what instance would I need to use a lite version of an app that I don’t actually want to download?

Forgive me, but if I am going to use an app at least once or twice a month, I probably have it downloaded and therefore do not need App Clips to pop up and confuse me. Take, for instance, Lyft. I don’t use ride-share services every week, but I do it enough that it’s worth keeping on my phone.


But what if I’m going to use Apple Pay at an establishment where I don’t want to download their standalone app, like Starbucks? In that case, I can just pay with my credit card. Or cash? Perhaps it’s a matter of ordering ahead and not having to download the Starbucks app to do so. That could be handy given the ongoing pandemic. Hey, maybe I’ve got it! Except, no, wait—if I’m scouting out coffee shops in the Maps app, I could theoretically choose any coffee shop I wanted. Wouldn’t it just be better then to just order from a place that I actually like and therefore, wouldn’t mind downloading the app for, if there even is one? Is this meant for that random instance where I’m stranded in the middle of nowhere and the only chain restaurant I can order from is one that I don’t like? And in this instance, am I to believe there is absolutely no other option around?

Sam, in his infinite patience, redirected me to one of the other examples Apple whizz-banged past in its keynote: parking meters. But this is, again, a hyper specific instance! If I am a local, wouldn’t it... be easier for me to download my area’s specific parking app when I’m using a metered spot? And if I’m not a local but will be in the area for a week or two, why is it such a hassle to... just download the app and then delete it when I’m done? I can think of at least one instance where I was vacationing and the local parking app let me add more time remotely. Would App Clips be able to do that, or is it dependent on scanning a QR code, thereby requiring me to haul ass in record time so I don’t get a parking ticket?

Image for article titled Someone, Please, Explain: WTF Are App Clips Exactly?
Photo: Apple

Maybe it’s, as the above screenshot would suggest, simply a method of riding around one of those death scooters without having to sign up for the app. That would be cool if I was trying it out one time and absolutely hated it. But if I did like it, wouldn’t it behoove me to just download the app then? Also, I don’t really see the problem with downloading an app to try a service and then immediately deleting it if I don’t find it useful. It takes two seconds.


OK, you say, but at least App Clips will help you get rid of app-related clutter! But isn’t that what the newfangled App Library is for? If I can neatly organize my cluttered apps, then doesn’t it stand to reason that I don’t need App Clips?

I am perplexed. I want to like App Clips. After much thinking, my brain hurts because I don’t understand why I would want App Clips or what problem it’s solving. I’m willing to admit that, perhaps, I am missing something very big here. Despite the snark, I am genuinely seeking enlightenment. So, please, help me understand: Why the fuck do I want App Clips again?