Airbnb Is Helping Make Android Apps More Like The Web


The ranks of app makers offering deep-linking tools have been joined by an unlikely contender: Airbnb.

Deep linking, a technique for launching directly into a specific function or piece of content, has been an area where mobile apps have lagged behind the Web. Everyone from Apple and Google to startups like Bitly, Button, and URX have been trying to solve the problem.

And now Airbnb’s in the deep-links game, too. On Tuesday, engineers at the lodging marketplace introduced DeepLinkDispatch, a library that makes linking to specific parts of an Android app easier. 

While Android has long had a feature called Intents which allows one app to link to another, Airbnb wasn’t satisfied with it.

“Deep linking is becoming a bigger feature in the mobile ecosystem,” Airbnb engineer Christian Deonier said. “The out-of-the-box solution for Android is a little clunky. This is more elegant and more streamlined.” 

Specifically, DeepLinkDispatch allows app makers to better understand how deep links are being used and when they fail.

Deep Interest In Deep Links 

As more people rely on their phones than desktops, direct linking in mobile apps has become an area of intense interest, and the attention has spawned startups like Button to cater to the demand. 

Deep linking sounds more mysterious and technical than it actually is. A “deep link” sends users to a specific part of a website or app, instead of a generic homepage or starter window. (The “deep” part of the term refers to where the destination is located within, say, a website’s hierarchical structure of pages or within a page itself.) 

In a mobile context, the link sends users to a specific section within an app—which can be tricky, since apps generally do not have standard Web addresses or structures. 

See Also: How Deep Linking Can Change The Way We Search On Mobile

Hence DeepLinkDispatch.  The engineers on Airbnb’s Android team say they have been working on creating a tool for cleaner deep linking for about a month, with this as the end result. 

Simply put, DeepLinkDispatch lets developers handle complex deep links within Android applications without having to write additional code. Developers merely annotate the deep link as they wish, and from there the tool does the routing and parsing on its own. 

It will also ping the application about successful and unsuccessful deep links, which provides developers with helpful data. 

By making its new Android deep linking tool open source, Airbnb continues its recent string of open source projects, most of which have originated from the company’s effort to clean up its own code.

In addition to showing off its technical prowess, Airbnb may benefit indirectly by encouraging development of apps which link directly to its hosts’ listings, or by creating services within apps that link to other apps. Imagine, for example, a function which lets hosts prearrange a pickup by a ride-hailing service like Lyft when a guest arrives at an airport.

The fact that Airbnb, Facebook, and others are releasing deep-linking tools as open source is a challenge for companies like Button and Bitly, which are looking to turn deep links into a business. But one way or another, mobile-app developers are the ones who benefit.

Lead image by Joe deSousa

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