One of the big problems with apps is that they often don’t talk to one another, a fact that complicates life for users and developers alike. Now Facebook thinks it can solve that.
On Wednesday at Facebook’s F8 developer conference, the company announced App Links, an open-source tool to facilitate “deep links” that can direct users to specific information within an app or from one app to another.
App Links, Facebook’s new tool, will enable app builders to expose deep links and link to other apps. With App Links, developers can publish, discover and navigate to deep links in iOS and Android, with support for Windows Phone coming soon.
Right now there are few options for deep linking in apps. It takes a lot of work to create deep links in iOS, which has its own custom URL scheme, and an equal amount of work for Android, which requires developers to know the package name of the app in question as well as how to access it.
Facebook bills App Links as a cross-platform solution that developers can add to their applications quickly. According to the company, it should take developers less than an hour to add code that allows for deep linking.
“Facebook is in a great place to enable the solution—we are cross-platform by nature,” Vijay Shankar, mobile products manager at Facebook, said in an interview. “It’s going to take you literally 30 minutes to add tags and be able to get up and running.”
One important note: When you’re using a native app on a mobile device, there’s no equivalent to a Web URL. So even with App Links, users can’t easily copy-paste and share a link to, say, a particular song in the Spotify app. App developers still have to implement a share button in order for users to share in-app material with others.
App Links, while a huge win for developers, still isn’t the mobile savior we need. Even if developers implement App Links, there’s no way for a search engine to scrape applications and deep link directly from the search page. Unless, that is, the developers include Google’s app indexing on an Android application, or Bing’s app indexing on a Windows Phone application. Either way, it’s an inefficient way to make your app searchable in the mobile Web.
Facebook says it has no plans for search at this time. Given its focus on solving the mobile challenge of finding and distributing interesting information only available in applications, though, it wouldn’t be surprising for Facebook to tackle app search as well.
Image courtesy of Facebook