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Google has been fighting a battle with the world of apps. As we covered in a recent white paper, a mobile world dominated by apps causes browser-based experiences to recede. And the latter is where Google hangs its hat — a $50 billion hat.

Part of Google’s strategy has been to beat the appverse by making the mobile web cleaned up and more attractive (see mopocalypse). And part of  its strategy has been to join it, as can be seen with deep linking and Google Now.

This week, Google made an interesting move that contains a bit little of both strategies.  It’s including apps in search results — just as it already does with deep linking — but now it actually lets you use the app without downloading it.

So instead of linking you to an app, Google launches it right within the browser. Technically it’s streaming the app. But importantly, it’s a two way street where user inputs are streamed back to Google’s servers where the app technically sits.

Think of it like an app emulator, launched within the browser, and available on Android devices (Lolipop or higher) connected to wifi. This is important for a few key reasons:

— Like mopocalypse, its endgame is to make the mobile web (and Google search results) more functional and attractive.

— In a bloated appverse where “app fatigue” has set in, it could resonate with users with atomized functionality that doesn’t require the process and commitment of a full app download.

— It could also resonate with app publishers who similarly suffer from a bloated appverse, in that it’s harder and harder to get their apps in front of people.

The third point will depend on the deals that Google strikes with third party apps. It’s currently in a trial period with a handful of apps like HotelTonight. Technically speaking, app developers will likely have access to usage metrics, despite the roundabout delivery.

But more important are the broader implications: The way Google is trying to keep people in search, is analogous to what Facebook is doing with Instant Articles. It’s creating an environment where people don’t have to leave.

And like Instant Articles, Google is repackaging third party content within its own environment. The proposition to third party apps is also similar: more traffic and engagement — though Instant Articles don’t contain the original experience (including ads).

Other questions still remain such as user adoption and acclamation. Are mainstream users too conditioned to go straight to their native apps? And can they be untrained? Questions also arise about functionality and lag time in the streamed app interaction.

All of these questions will be answered in the coming weeks, and we’ll spend some time playing with it. We’ll voice our findings at BIA/Kelsey NEXT, now just 3 short weeks away.


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