NativeLink and App Clips: Solving the Deferred Deep Linking Challenges of Private Relay

iOS 15 has arrived, and so has Apple’s new Private Relay feature. With Private Relay, Apple iCloud+ users who pay for a subscription will receive an additional layer of privacy: as with a private VPN, their IP addresses will be masked on Safari.

While this makes deferred deep linking more difficult, Branch has already implemented a pair of solutions that will allow users to both download apps and then reach the in-app content they’re seeking. Branch works with Apple’s App Clips, which perform specific tasks, and then prompt the user to download the full versions of those apps when finished. More recently, Branch has unveiled NativeLink™, which addresses the challenges of Private Relay by making use of native iOS copy-and-paste functionality to ensure that the deferred deep linking flow is seamless and the user is deep linked exactly as expected after an app install.

Both NativeLink and App Clips bridge the gap left by Private Relay, deep linking users to their destinations in very different ways. Both also have individual strengths that make them unique. Let’s take a look at how NativeLink and App Clips work, and the benefits each one offers.

App Clips

Apple’s App Clips are abridged versions of apps through which users can perform certain simple tasks, such as paying for an item at a point of purchase. The process is meant to be faster than downloading a full app.

The process begins when a user takes a specific action designed to launch the App Clip. These actions can include clicking a text message link, tapping an NFC tag or, in the case shown above, scanning a QR code. The App Clip will launch a card that pops up and asks the user to perform a task. The user will then be deep linked to the App Clip and perform the task — paying the check for a meal, as in the example above.

App Clips can also support a version of deferred deep linking. After the initial transaction, the App Clip can present the user with an additional offer or incentive to download the full app. If the user downloads the app, it launches to the offer or incentive page, effectively deep linking the user.

App Clips are very handy when you need to quickly and easily perform a specific task. That task could be paying for an item, accessing a menu at a restaurant or bar, or searching for a store’s location. Since you don’t have to download a full app, the process is quick. It’s also easy to initiate — you can get online even from a locked phone screen if you use a QR code or NFC tag.

Of course, App Clips do have their drawbacks, the most notable of which is that the user only gets access to the truncated version of the app, not the full version. If the user wants the full version, they need to take an additional step after completing the initial task. Additionally, push notifications are only available for App Clips within the first eight hours. These create a major impact on install conversion, leading to fewer installs and a far lower lifetime value per customer. 


Branch’s NativeLink product works by pasting a web user’s initial deep link destination to the iOS clipboard and, after they download the app, bringing users to the original link location, preserving the deferred deep linking process without collecting a user’s IP address.

First, the user visits a mobile website and is presented with a prompt (such as a smart banner) that advertises the relevant app. Once the user clicks the smart banner, they’re redirected to a page that asks them if they want to download the app, and if so, if they want their initial destination copied to the clipboard. If the user gives their permission, the app downloads, and then the destination link is automatically pasted, bringing the user directly to it.

NativeLink is easy to use because it preserves the standard deferred deep linking flow, even with Private Relay. Since the user needs to download the full app before they can use it, there’s far more incentive for them to do just that, which means that install conversations and lifetime value are far higher than with the App Clips method. NativeLink also protects user privacy by not collecting an IP address, and finally, the SDK implementation is simple, requiring just a few lines of code.

Like deep linking with App Clips, NativeLink also adds to the standard deferred deep linking flow. However, NativeLink only adds a single step to the process, whereas using App Clips adds multiple steps.

Which Solution Is Right for You?

Branch provides — and will continue to provide — support for both NativeLink and App Clips when it comes to the deep linking challenges inherent in Private Relay. Our customers will have the freedom to institute the solution they prefer in any given scenario. This is critical to customers’ experiences, as both NativeLink and App Clips serve specific purposes. Both can even be useful for the same app, depending on the situation and a user’s need regarding the app’s capabilities, depth, and expedience.

That said, Branch believes NativeLink is the better experience for most deferred deep linking use cases. Deferred deep linking with NativeLink requires fewer steps to download an app, securely protects user privacy, enables higher LTV and ROI, and is easy to implement, making it preferable for users and brands alike. Branch is committed to the simplest and most powerful solutions, and NativeLink is exactly that.

NativeLink is available now at no additional cost for all Branch customers. To learn more about NativeLink, click here or check out the walkthrough video.