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iOS App Clips: How Toast (and tacos) made me love Apple's lightweight app code

No touch, no friction: Now I can pay for my Birria Quesadillas and Watermelon Margaritas without leaving my bar seat.

At Apple's 2020 World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), the company introduced App Clips, a new way of distributing and launching applications in iOS.

Instead of downloading large pieces of code from the App Store, an App Clip is a lightweight version of an app codebase that is intended to perform a particular function from your app, which can be "invoked" by a near field data computing (NFC) data exchange, an iMessage transaction, integrated into a web page, within business details in Apple Maps, or even scanning a QR code. 

The use cases are specific to completing a single task very quickly. For example, if you're in a retail store and swipe your phone over a payment terminal or take a photo of a QR code,  a product directory of sale promotions or check-out coupons might pop up on your screen. 

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Toast's App Clip Invocation

Jason Perlow/ZDNet

The App Clip download over your data connection (WiFi, 4G/5G mobile data) must occur within seconds, so we are talking about only a few megabytes in size; 10MB is the maximum allowed. You do not actually need the full-sized app installed on the iPhone to make an App Clip work -- although the option exists when launching an App Clip to get the full experience.

While Apple did a great demo of these App Clips at last year's WWDC, I hadn't seen much head or tail of them in the past year. Let's face it, we didn't do much venturing into brick-and-mortar retail in the last 12 months;  if retailers were using App Clips, chances are I would not have noticed them. 

My understanding is that Panera Bread and several other businesses have launched their own App Clips, and Pizza Hut Australia is going to be launching one soon. iOS 14.6 integrates Shazam as an App Clip in Control Center now as well. 

Shazam I'll play with. But I make my own damn coffee, and I'm not flying across 14 hours of time zones for chain pizza.

I completely forgot about App Clips for a year. But I've recently started dining out and eating indoors again since being vaccinated for COVID-19. Last night, I decided to get some Mexican Fusion cuisine at a new place in town, Papamigos Coconut Creek. 

After having my Birria Quesadillas, my Sushi Taco, and my Watermelon Mint Margarita, the server presented the bill, which came as a receipt printout. 

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Toast uses QR codes and iOS App Clips for touchless payment.

Toast Touchless Payment Receipt

I initially reached for my credit card, thinking I would need to hand it over to the server, but there was a QR code on it, along with "TOUCHLESS PAYMENT OPTION, Scan with phone camera to pay" printed below it.

"Okay, I'm technologically inclined," I thought; I should try this.

I opened the camera app and pointed it at the QR code. A Safari dialog popped up, prompting me to take action. I clicked on it and within seconds, the App Clip is invoked. Now, granted, I have AT&T 5G, so I expect downloads to be fast, but this felt practically instantaneous.

Toast POS

Lo and behold, it is Toast's App Clip. Toast is a point-of-sale (POS) vendor that provides online ordering systems for small restaurant businesses, and they also have  View now at Toast

Toast's competitor, Square, implemented App Clips in June of 2020, but this is the first time I have seen a restaurant vendor implement an App Clip transaction. Fiserv's Clover's solution doesn't appear to have it yet.

Toast's Scan to Pay works with Android using a web app when the QR process occurs and requires that the customer enter their email address and credit card information. But in this case, because it was an iPhone, the entire process was quick and seamless using an App Clip. 

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Once the App Clip was downloaded, it brought me directly to the transaction, where I could choose the tip amount and then make the entire payment through Apple Pay. I feel this alone is a godsend -- I can't tell you how uncomfortable it is to have to choose a tip amount in front of the person you need to tip, even if you are using an NFC-equipped terminal with Apple Pay. 

This removes all of the pressure and urgency of the payment process because you can pay your bill in a more leisurely manner once you've asked for that check. You pay right from your seat. Of course, you could extend this into ordering from your seat, as well, provided that Toast implemented it into the App Clip and there were QR codes printed on the tables.

I was skeptical of App Clips. But now I'm a believer and I cannot wait for all of my local Toast-affiliated restaurants to use them.

Have you used Toast's App Clip at your favorite restaurant yet? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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