A quick guide to Apple app clips, a new feature for iOS 14

  • Scope:
  • Mobile Development
  • Business
Apple app clips

App clips were announced during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2020 on Monday 06.22. The feature aims to level-up the convenience of mobile apps by harnessing the power of the whole Apple software and hardware ecosystem. But should we care or is this yet-another useless heap of marketing mumbo-jumbo?

Apple iOS has secured its position as the second most popular mobile operating system in the world. According to the IDC data, the system holds a 14.9% market share in 2020 even despite the whole market suffering a slowdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. The sales volumes are dropping due to both the impact of the pandemic on logistic chains as well as its effects on the job market. This difficult situation hits all the market, making no distinction between mobile apps, retail or manufacturing, while startups struggle to secure funding from venture capital during the recession.

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But on the other hand, it is also the perfect time to apply some new innovations in business to increase agility and resilience against the ongoing crisis. Apple App Clips, recently shown during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, comes as a good example of innovation that can transform day-to-day business operations in many COVID-affected sectors.

What are app clips 

Apple App clips are small parts of the original apps which enable users to preview and use the app without the need to download or install it on the device. The key idea behind the app clip is not to let the user test the app or to give a demo version. Rather, it is about cutting out a certain workflow, process or feature that can be contextually launched and used, and to give it to the user with a specified trigger.

The “full version” of the app needs to be available in the app store to be downloaded. There is no way to deliver only “the clip” with no app behind it. The clip itself is in fact a tiny fragment of the app and will still benefit from the whole Apple ecosystem, including Apple Pay particularly. Thus, the app clip will enable the user to instantly pay for the service he or she uses, without the need to download, install, and configure the full app.

Also, the user doesn’t need to manage the app further – it remains active within the system for some time (from 8 hours to several days, assuming the app clip has been used several times) and later it disappears without the need to manually uninstall it from the app library.

App clip triggers

Triggers are essential in the app clip concept – they are the first signal that the user wishes to interact with the service provider using his or her phone. Currently, the App Clips announcement lists the following triggers:

  • App Clip Code – looks like a QR code made of circles. It is a unique code developed for the app clip, as of yet unseen before.
  • NFC tag – with every iPhone 6 or later having Near Field Communication (NFC) readers, a proper tag can also be a trigger, depending on the context and the service.
  • Safari app banner – there are apps that can be used to support online activities, and that’s where an app clip available from the internet browser comes into play.
  • Links in messages – both users and companies can encourage other people to use a particular app.
  • Place cards in maps – being near to a restaurant or a particular place can be a trigger for an app clip.
  • Recently used app clips – users can easily get back to the services he or she recently used, despite not having them installed.

This set of triggers is a key feature that make Apple app clips significantly different from Instant Apps known from Android.

Apple app clips triggers

Apple App clips vs. Instant Apps

The concept of immediate access to the app without the need to install is shared between Apple app clips and Android Instant Apps. Yet there are several important differences that make these features completely different.


App clip has a limited size, being in fact only a piece of the native app while Instant Apps can deliver the full functionality of the native program (assuming they don’t exceed 10 MB). If they do or don’t – it is up to the developer’s choice and goal. The developer of an App Clip can take some process out of the app while the Instant App is more of a demo version.


App clips can be launched using a trigger, so in fact, the need comes before the app – users find themselves in a particular context and are served with a proper app. It is as simple as it sounds – if there is a trigger nearby, for example a QR code printed on a car-share vehicle, one can just scan the code and use the device. In fact, there is no disclosed way at the moment to launch the Apple app clip without the trigger.

When it comes to Android Instant Apps, the app needs to be discovered first and can later be tested without installing. To get it, just tap the “try now” button instead of “install.” No trigger, no transferring the process out of the app.


App clips benefit from the enclosed and comprehensive Apple apps ecosystem, including Apple Pay, so the app can be launched, the user can sign in with Apple ID and the payment can be processed with Apple Pay.

In Instant apps, payments are prohibited but, on the other hand, signing in with Google ID is encouraged – so to pay for anything the user needs to download the full version of the app. 

Apple app clips vs. Progressive Web Apps

The app clip concept can also be seen as similar to the Progressive Web App (PWA) – the app works without being downloaded, directly from the device. But there are even more differences than in app clips vs instant app comparison. 

The Progressive Web App doesn’t need to be in Google Play or the App store – it is launched directly from the browser and works there, yet leveraging all the power of the native app. It is a perfect pick for e-commerce, where the user rarely downloads the full store app (usually preferring to use the website), while delivering its functionalities boosts conversion rates and performance significantly.

What App clip Apple delivers is not the answer to this challenge – while PWA is a pure-online performance booster, the app clip is heavily rooted in the offline world. And that’s not a bad thing – it is just a tool to solve different problems.

Five Apple app clip use cases – you (don’t) need an app for that

To take a short ride through potential use cases and performance boosts the app clip delivers, our iOS team has prepared a list of potential use cases for various industries. 

App clip for Restaurants 

Convincing a user to download and regularly use an app is not an easy task for restaurants and cafes. On the other hand, using an app comes with multiple convenient added services with reducing queueing times being the most obvious.

The restaurant can insert an app clip into its website, encouraging the user to order the meal and pick it up on-site, using the website’s banner and Apple Pay integration. Also, using the app clip, the user can order their meal and enjoy it on-site, delivering information about the table where he or she sits using a QR-code printed on the table cloth. 

The user doesn’t need to download the full app to process the order or payment, but he or she will be encouraged to do so in order to get more personalized offers and collect points with a loyalty program.

App clips for Retail

Amazon Go and Tesco Cashless stores are just the first in the growing trend of fully automated cashless stores, where the customer performs all steps of the checkout by themselves. As such, using an app clip transforms every iPhone or iPad owner into a potential customer, one who can just drop in, scan their code and drop out without any further need to download anything or configure credit card payments.

App clips for E-commerce

Although an app usually offers a better experience than a website, users tend to stick to the websites. Delivering a PWA is one solution, but some retailers benefit from users having the app installed on their device. For example, a large retail chain can track a user location within the store using beacons to gather information about paths and optimize their shopping experience.

App clips can be used to show the benefits of using the app instead of the web service and encourage one to download it.

App clips for transportation

Purchasing tickets for public transportation or paying for a taxi service can be painful when the user has no cash. Using an NFC tag near the entrance or a code to scan inside can be a trigger that processes the payment.

Also, the code can be used to inform officials about incidents, delivering a convenient way to pack all information about the location (the number of the bus, the route, accurate position etc.) so the passenger can simply describe the problem and pass the information much further.  

App clips for advertising

Enabling the user to instantly pay for a service or subscribe to it delivers tremendous opportunities for marketing and advertising. Enriching outdoor posters with codes can not only deliver some fancy, augmented reality experiences, but also deliver instant conversions. The user can subscribe to a streaming service and listen to an advertised song right at the moment he or she sees the ad.

Tickets for events can be sold in the same way, as well as literally any other product.


Currently, we know little about this new feature – there are no case studies and the feature itself will be available starting from September 2020 with iOS 14’s delivery. By that time, developers and brands around the world will forge a multitude of ways to leverage this new feature for their own benefit.

If you already have some cool idea of how to use Apple App clips in your business, drop us a line. And if you’ve got the feeling it can grant you some benefit, but you have no idea exactly what or how just yet, contact us and we will think over the problem and come up with something together!