The importance of applications to the success of a mobile operating system cannot be overstated: if users do not have access to a variety of applications, then why should they use a particular OS? But perhaps more important than the apps themselves is how well they function within the context of the OS in which users use them.
Consider Google Chrome, a quality browser application available for both Android and its rival iOS. A user has an iOS device, but happens to like the Google ecosystem, so he downloads and installs Chrome on his device. He opens it and recognizes its user interface and features. For a moment, he is happy!
Just then, he receives an email from a friend containing a link to an article his friend encourages him to read. He clicks the link excitedly, waiting for Chrome to open and display the web page containing the article…But instead, the link opens in Safari, the stock browser in iOS. What happened? Unable to determine the problem, the user must either copy and paste the article link into Chrome, or read it in Safari.
In another example, a different user has a Nexus 7. After turning it on and using it for a couple of days, he realizes he dislikes Chrome, the stock browser on the device. He downloads Firefox from the Play Store and installs it. He clicks a link in an email and…Look what happens!
A small window opens; it contains two icons, one representing Chrome, and one Firefox. The user selects the Firefox icon. Something else happens!
Two previously grayed out options become available: “Always”, meaning the app the user selects will always perform the action, opening a link in this example; and “Just once”, meaning the app the user selects will perform the action, but only this time. So what happened?
The sequence of events in the previous scenario unfolded as it did because of intents. Intents, a programming feature, allow app developers to, among other things, offer users context-dependent options to perform certain actions, including launching one app to perform an action that originated in another app. Opening links in a browser different than the stock one is a fairly basic implementation of intents; how about another example?
A user follows CyanogenMod on Twitter, and CyanogenMod tweets a link to a post on its Google+ page. The user opens the link from his Twitter client of choice (Tweedle perhaps?) and the default browser opens. But then the action pauses for a moment; before the page loads, the app prompts the user to choose between various browsers and, conveniently, the native Google+ app.
Similarly, if a user clicks a link to a page in the Play Store, for more information about an app for example, the action pauses after the default browser opens and prompts the user to choose between browsers and the Play Store app to display it. But another option is available in the prompt too.
MarketMarks, an app that allows users to bookmark apps in the Play Store so users can refer to or purchase them later, is an option that users may not have considered initially, despite having downloaded it for that purpose; yet the way the app uses intents allows the user to determine whether they need to view the information page of the app or merely save it for later. The particular app does not matter in this example, but it still demonstrates how intents can integrate seamlessly into the Android user experience to offer the user more choices.
Perhaps a user unintentionally eliminates his choice to choose a default app by mistakenly selecting the wrong app, or maybe he just wants to use a new app as the default choice for performing a certain action. For an example of the former scenario, the user selects “Always” for MarketMarks on accident, which always opens MarketMarks for app links instead of the Play Store. All the user needs to do is open Settings > Apps, select the offending app (MarketMarks), and select Clear Defaults. Now the user is free to select a new choice when prompted to choose a default app.
The obvious benefit of intents in the scenarios above is that users can better execute certain actions within a native app environment than they can using a mobile version of a website. Of course, intents can be useful in situations other than opening links; prompts to select the best app for the job pop up all over Android in any number of different circumstances, offering users more control over the manner in which their app experience unfolds. And whether that means using a different browser as the default app for handling links or something else entirely, intents prove quite useful regardless.
That does it for app intents. If you have any other topics you would like us to tackle, any apps you would like us to review, or any lessons about Android you would like to learn, please let us know in the comments. Thank you for reading!
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