By adaptive - September 15th, 2015

Companies have long partnered with complementary businesses, and mobile B2C firms are seeking to ease user friction, and find customers, on smart devices by using deep linking. That is, they seek to let users quickly access information and share it with friends or complete related tasks by using other apps, all without exiting the original app they opened or being forced to open a browser.

As Open Mobile’s Robert Gray discovered, some companies are diving right into deep linking, while others are still testing the waters.

Vurb aims to become “the verb” for mobile search, as in “Vurb it” or “Vurb me” (results from the site’s decks). The company has bold ambitions but is already using deep linking with some of the biggest names in consumer apps to become a force in the nascent, fluid world of mobile search and accomplishing tasks on smart devices.
Vurb is also adding some new twists straight out of the playbook of its newest investor, China’s Tencent, which owns that nation’s dominant messaging service: WeChat.
Vurb’s first six months as a live app exclusively in Apple’s “iOSphere” were all about gaining traction and consumer feedback. Its mobile search software helped users find, plan, and act on data such as planning a night out at the movies, including booking reservations, and transportation, all within a single app instead of using as many as eight apps to plan it.
The software does this by surfacing results on “cards” and offering links to embedded partner apps including Rotten Tomatoes, Fandango, Yelp, OpenTable, and Uber. The cards can be saved in decks that are easily shared.
Now, Vurb is taking the next step to keeping its audience truly captive—adding a chat function. Because people can follow each other’s saved decks of favorite restaurants or concerts or movies, there was already a way to collaborate remotely, but founder and CEO Bobby Lo says the chat function truly completes that deep-linked circle.
Lo said, “People were making threads like a hack to work around the fact there was no way to communicate plans, so if Vurb is your place to plan when sharing rich pieces of information, then Vurb should be the way to do it.”
The newly updated version of the app allows users to swipe left on a movie title or café, and you can share the card with one or more friends who will get a text notification. The chat thread will be visible to help track “discussions” of which film to see and times can be checked and tickets purchased without ever leaving the app. Dinner could be similarly planned and an Uber ordered as well.
Vurb looks to get wider exposure after its recent launch for Android devices, but the chat function is key as it may help the app retain new users.
The company’s CEO notes, “The big problem facing app developers today, a Google survey shows 25 percent of apps downloaded aren’t opened a single time. It’s really competitive, there’s app fatigue and app overload. We hope Vurb is the home screen app because it’s a window to other apps and services that you use. Our retention is above industry norms.”
But Lo notes a widely followed research report from Flurry shows just how much more likely people are to stick with messaging apps over other apps.

Deep Linking Reservations?

OpenTable is not only a deep linking partner with Vurb, it has more than 600 partners that account for some 10 percent of business for the restaurant reservation site. “We try to be where diners are, in the right context, if you’re looking for a restaurant,” notes Jocelyn Mangan, senior vice president, product management for OpenTable.
She adds, “Deep linking is a new thing and we’re interested in how the eco system plays out. It makes a lot of sense because of the giant app eco-system, apps can do things the web can’t do.”
Online video site Vimeo is using deep linking in a different way--to cross-promote its own apps. “We’re exploring ways to bring Cameo (Vimeo’s iOS-platform video editing app) and Vimeo iOS users together by sending them between (our) apps at opportune moments,” says Christopher Gillet, director, audience product for the company.
While the company focuses on the internal deep links, Gillet says he does see potential benefits from linking with other brands or companies.
Some other consumer-facing firms have been developing deep links since creating their mobile apps. Jamie Hull, vice president of mobile products at Evernote, says, “We have a very active third-party developer community and several strategic partner integrations, so deep linking has been important for our mobile apps from the beginning.”
The company does this in several ways, she explains: “We allow apps to link directly to a particular piece of content, as well as to our premium upsell flows. We also support callback schemes so that an app can switch a user to Evernote for note creation and then pass control back to the source app when completed.”
Hull says this gives users flexibility to use their apps of choice but still maintain the functionality of Evernote.
TripAdvisor, meanwhile, is taking a more measured route to partnerships. “We’re not deep linking but have full integration inside of our app,” says Adam Medros, senior vice president, global product for TripAdvisor. “We also link from other places, such as search results, to our app. We’ve found the native (app) experience is faster. We integrated Uber into our app to see how much a fare may be from where you are, or to where you’re trying to go. “
Medros adds, “Where it gets complicated is the whole new world of what’s mobile web versus app linking. Our Chinese site does some integration with WeChat. What’s tricky is trying to figure out how to make those partnerships worth your while. They can be expensive.”

WeChat: Whisper to a Scream

Finding true value may be the rub in these early deep-linking days. After all, true cross-app functionality is still in its infancy in many nations, but the trendsetter so far is WeChat. A closer examination of that company makes it easy to see why Vurb’s Lo and others realize being like WeChat may be where it’s at.
After all, the Chinese juggernaut got a shoutout from Apple CEO Tim Cook on the company’s last earnings call as one of Apple’s top apps. And in truth, WeChat has become more than an app, it’s a mobile platform.
Noted venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz recently dissected WeChat’s unique business model of how it helps users find information and complete tasks in both the virtual and real world.
Connie Chan, a partner at the VC firm and the article’s author, writes “most mobile experiences in the U.S. remain at a superficial, surface-only level … without really harnessing all the parts of the phone, from GPS location to sensors to voice to camera.”
She notes WeChat makes full use of the smartphone’s functionality from language translations using the camera to phone-based payments to locating nearby friends and businesses.
The main thrust of the piece is showing a roadmap for where messaging apps may be heading, how they can monetize interactions, and transform into a mobile portal.
That’s why it’s easy to understand why Vurb’s Lo is looking to expand his app’s offerings with additional verticals. He mentions travel with hotel rates and airfares or shopping, which has plenty of interest from consumers; the CEO notes books are already a favorite deck among users.
Vurb also recently launched in China and elsewhere around the globe, which Lo says opens up new partnerships and revenue streams. He says it can also help users and partners when they travel out of market. Vurb plans to partner with local, in-market apps for reviews or ride sharing so Americans abroad don’t have to download any additional apps on the road. Lo also asserts his company’s software could become a conduit through which US-based apps could expand into new territories.
That’s another thing WeChat does well--solving the supply problem for consumers—a glut of apps by offering solutions within its own messaging platform. “There are 1.5 million apps in the App Store and in Google Play,” Lo notes, adding, “when there are so many apps out there and people are downloading fewer than 60 apps (each), what’s the right app or how do you find them?”
The answer, according to Lo, is go to the mobile search portal model. “WeChat said you don't need to download them all, they are mini services in our app and you can access them and use them in our app.”
Lo notes the WeChat model is tough to copy because WeChat’s parent company owns many of the other apps it links to, while Vurb’s US partners are big companies including IMDB, Uber, and Yelp. “So we’re a hybrid model bringing in best of breed apps,” he explains, “We saw what WeChat is doing in China and thought it was a great pattern. This model of bringing apps and people together in one place looks like where the future needs to go.”

For all the latest mobile trends, check out The Open Mobile Summit 2015 on November, 9-10, San Francisco 

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