Native apps have overtaken the web as the main place where smartphone users go for entertainment, information and more. So it should come as no surprise that one of the companies that profits the most from our use of the web is looking for ways to get us to use the it more again. According to The Information, Google last year secretly acquired a startup called Agawi, which had developed technology to use and stream mobile apps over the web without downloading them first, used in applications like in-app adds to preview and promote gaming apps.
Google confirmed the deal directly to TechCrunch in a terse note. “The Agawi team has joined Google. We aren’t sharing other details,” a spokesperson said.
Before the confirmation, there were several clues that pointed to it being correct. Agawi itself is no longer a live business: its web site is dead (kind of ironically), and its various Twitter accounts have not been updated since 2013.
There are three former Agawi employees now listed as working at Google on LinkedIn, all software engineers, including co-founder Rohan Relan. Two other co-founders, Peter Relan (who had been the executive chairman) and Rajat Gupta (the CEO) do not include Google in their LinkedIn resumes.
The Information describes Google’s move to buy Agawi and integrate its technology as part of the search giant’s larger efforts to get people back to using the web, and specifically away from downloading apps in order to enjoy content. But a lot of the numbers about how Google has developed its own apps platform, Android Play, don’t seem to support this. For example, the company has paid out $7 billion to developers and has more than 1 million apps in its store.
There is nevertheless a pretty clear reason why Google would want to swing more attention to apps and how they might be consumed over the web: it makes the majority of its revenues from web searches and the ads that run against them.
Efforts like Apple’s new deep-link-based search in iOS 9 pose a threat to Google’s core business model because provides an alternative way to find content within apps that do not use Google or the web.
Google has of course worked on ways of building out its apps business, including search in native apps: it’s enhanced its own deep-linked apps service, with some 50 billion links within apps now indexed to be searchable online, and with 100 apps integrated into Google Now.
One way Google could use Agawi’s technology could be enhance how app search in Google works. Its streaming technology could be used to let people search for and then preview apps before downloading them.
Apple’s new search offering, which uses deep-link technology to surface content from within apps, essentially gives its iPhone and iPad users a way to search inside those apps, thereby giving users less of a need to use Google’s search engine, and the web in general. Apple’s search currently only covers apps that a person has installed on his or her phone, but it seems only a matter of time before that gets extended to the wider catalog of uninstalled apps, too.
Agawi, which started out in Peter Relan’s YouWeb incubator, has been around in one shape or another since 2010 (its first name was iSwifter). In theory its technology could be used for all kinds of content, although it focused its efforts initially on gaming and then developing ad units where you could play the games from within the ads.
This latter product is also interesting from a Google perspective. Google, whose Android OS powers the majority of smartphones globally, is also a leader in mobile advertising.
While we have seen a lot of developments from other companies in rich media and programmatic ads, as well as from the likes of Facebook and its own in-app efforts, this is a sign of how Google itself may be looking to innovate again in its mobile advertising approach.
In fact, you can think of this ad unit as a super-charged app-install ad. From what we understand, you can set a limit on how long you can stream a game in the ad unit, to make it into a preview, which then converts into a download link from the app store.
Updated throughout with Google confirmation and additional information.