Deep linking is the future of mobile user experiences. Well, it’s the future of good mobile user experiences anyway. Few developments in the last four or five years hold as much promise for improved U/X than deep linking. It’s not so much that the technology itself is earth shattering, but rather the manner in which sharp companies will use deep linking to change the way the entire mobile ecosystem operates.
For anyone not intimately familiar, deep linking enables a user to click something and link directly to the object in question. For websites, this began with the ability to link not to a general homepage, but to a specific article in which you’re interested. That concept extended to mobile phones, too — users could click on deep links and their mobile browser would take them to the target page within the browser. Sounds pretty simple, right?
If that was the extent of deep links, you’d be correct, but deep linking took another step in the opposite direction. Users could find something online on their phones and then click a link or button to open that item within the corresponding app (instead of within the mobile browser). For instance, if you were scrolling for an item on Amazon.com, the website could prompt you to browse for that item within the Amazon app and take you directly to that item within said app. Or even better, if you clicked on the “buy now” button on the web, your phone would automatically launch the app and take you to checkout.
This type of mobile browsing → app action has been around for years. But, deep links present untold possibilities far beyond that unidirectional flow…
App to app communication.
Google, somewhat predictably, was probably the first major player to jump on the app-to-app deep linking bandwagon. The Next Web describes a simple instance of how that might work in this case:
So, if you share a link from Flipboard, for instance to Google+, the person that taps that link will be taken right into Flipboard and shown that content, rather than having it go to the web or just opening the app.
The implications for mobile deep linking were far greater than accessing native content though. According to TechCrunch,
By 2013-2014, mobile commerce had begun to explode; people were buying real things on their mobile devices to the tune of billions and with it came a need for better tools to drive users through the conversion funnel. The millions that brands had invested in developing mobile apps were finally paying off. Apps were converting users to purchase far better than the mobile web (often many times over), but they had no good way to get users into their apps from traditional marketing and acquisition channels: email and web ads.
All of a sudden, there was major money to be made behind mobile deep linking. But, there was a big obstacle in the way — there is no deep linking standard. Put another way, there is no common langauge or structure all apps and websites operate on to execute deep links between the repsective services within the ecosystem.
There are a number of companies, some large, some small, trying to solve this issue. And, the standard protocol the industry lands on will be critical in the future of mobile user experiences. If and when mobile developers land on a standard, whether by choice or by necessity, it will hold huge implications for user experience designers.
For instance, if you see a push notification on your lock screen alerting you to a flight delay, it’d be ideal if, when you swipe right on the lock screen notification, it links not only into your flight tracking app, but to the screen showing exactly what’s going on with your flight. For example’s sake, let’s say your flight has been cancelled due to weather. It’d be ideal yet again if you could click on that cancellation notice within your flight tracking app, and you’d immediately be taken into your airline’s app rebooking system, or the link would launch the phone app, automatically calling your airline’s rebooking agents to book you on something else.
Many of these actions (or some that resemble these) are already a reality. For others, they’re in the works. Deep links aren’t a revolutionary technology in and of themselves. But, the manner in which we use them very well could be. And, companies with their pulse on this emerging trend will reap the rewards in the future.
Mobile deep linking will be a cornerstone of the user experience of tomorrow. Hopefully that future is sooner rather than later.