The app clips presented at WWDC 2020 with iOS 14 / iPadOS 14 are basically small functional components of an app that developers can offer a user without having to download the entire app. As application examples for which app clips are suitable, Apple mentions, for example, the rental of a scooter, the purchase of a coffee or the payment of parking fees. On Android, this option of using mini-apps has long been known as the Android instant app – although not widely used.
Don’t let the word “mini” fool you. Because the current restrictions regarding what can be done within an app clip are not that big. However, since App Clips is a feature of iOS, it’s no surprise that Apple took privacy and security very seriously when it came to developing App Clips. Therefore, there are some restrictions on the types of personal data that App Clips can access: The main limitation with regard to the available APIs is that App Clips cannot access health data (HealthKit API). Apple also requires that login information be processed using “Sign in with Apple” and payment services using Apple Pay. That being said, pretty much every system API is available for app clips.
Another hard limitation is the “file size” of App Clips: This is limited to 10 megabytes (MB). To make an app clip available, developers must embed it in an existing (large) iOS application – subject to the restrictions. Once an app clip has been created, the developer can configure it via the developer portal App Store Connect according to the desired appearance. For example, developers can configure a custom map that appears when a user activates the app clip.
In App Store Connect, developers can also specify which URL prefixes activate which app clip. Such a prefix is a parameter in the URL (for example a parameter that specifies the ID of an object for which the user is currently activating the app clip). App clips can be activated on websites with custom NFC tags, QR codes or smart app banners. They can also be sent via iMessage. Later in the year, there will also be an Apple App Code – a combination of QR code and NFC tag.
If an app clip accesses other areas relevant to data protection, the classic dialogs for data release appear. If a user grants an app clip access to the camera, the microphone, Bluetooth or similar and later installs the “whole” associated app, the permissions are applied accordingly. Developers can also persist user data by using an app group and a shared container between App Clip and the actual “big” app.
It will certainly be exciting to see for what purposes developers offer the app clips and how the concept is received by them and the users. The size limit of 10 MB could help to ensure fast availability – for example on the go. And who knows – maybe the app clips will also help the Android instant apps to become more popular. (mb / fm)