Google Brings Apps Into Browsers, Blurring Mobile-Desktop Lines

Mobile applications brought the power of the Internet into smartphones, turning them into gateways for services and information. Now, as apps become more central to people’s digital lives, Google is looking to bring some of that technology back to the Web.

Google will start including data from popular apps into browser-based search results, helping users find information even if they haven’t downloaded the software onto their devices, the Web company said on Wednesday. And Google is taking the idea one step further, by letting people run apps right inside their Internet browsers.

Some apps don’t have a corresponding website, making it harder for Google to scour them for information to include in its search engine. To fix this, Google has spent the past two years creating tools for developers that make it easier for its search engine to peer into apps. The efforts are aimed at making it easier for Google to put relevant ads in front of people — whether they’re on smartphones or laptops. That’s critical in a world where seven of every eight minutes on mobile phones in the U.S. are spent interacting with apps and media, according to Comscore.

Blurred Lines

Initially, Google is integrating nine apps: Hotel Tonight, Weather, Chimani, Gormey, My Horoscope, Visual Anatomy Free, Useful Knots, Daily Horoscope and the New York Subway. Eventually, other apps will join the list depending on demand, said Scott Huffman, Google’s vice president for voice search and app indexing.

“We want to take a step back and see how users react and respond to this,” Huffman said.

The biggest hurdle will be persuading more software programmers to design apps that work with Google’s indexing system, which enables deep links into apps so that they can be included in Google’s search engine.

“It’s not loads of work,” Huffman said. “The bigger piece of work for most developers is the work inside the app itself to make it addressable.”

There are already more than 1,000 apps designed to work with deep linking, Google said in July. The Web company said it now has 100 billion deep links in its index, more than triple the number it had in April.

Eventually, if the initiative succeeds, the distinctions between mobile apps and websites will fade, Huffman said, leading to a world where “publishers publish their content in the way they think will create the best experience for their users and users experience the content in whatever is the best way available to them.” With Google at the nexus, serving ads.

Jack Clark