Merck's COVID pill DNA finds Sitting Bull's descendant 2023 Chevy Corvette Z06 Tiger King 2's wild trailer Trailer for Toy Story spinoff Lightyear PS5 restock tracker

This underrated iPhone tool is also one of its most convenient. You're welcome

If you aren't using this mini app feature, you're missing out. We tell you how it works, how you benefit and how to get started.

app-clips-panera-bread

Panera Bread's App Clip means you don't need the full app to place an order. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Last night my family and I went to dinner at a place we've been countless times, especially prior to the pandemic. When it came time to pay the bill, we were surprised to see a QR code on the printed ticket with something to the effect of "Scan to pay with your phone" underneath it. Being a tech nerd, I told my wife we have to give it a try. I had heard that Toast, a point of sale system for restaurants, had enabled Apple's App Clip feature to quickly speed through checkout and was eager to see what would happen.

Sure enough, as soon as my wife scanned the code with her iPhone's camera, it installed an App Clip -- a tiny slice of an app -- that showed a digital version of the paper bill we had in front of us. Two taps later, she had paid for our family meal with Apple Pay, without having to download a full app, walk to the cash register or fish out her credit card and wait for the server to take it away and return with a receipt.

App Clips are miniature versions of apps that often forgo the need to install the full app or create an account in order to do something, especially if that "something" involves a payment. This was actually my second App Clip encounter in a week. I had just scanned an Exxon Mobil QR code to pay for gas instead of dipping my credit card into the slot at the pump.

Useful, right? You can do so much more with App Clips, and below I'll break down what exactly they are, what they can do and how you can use an App Clip once you encounter one in wild. 

Now playing: Watch this: Apple AirTags made a good small impression
6:55

What are App Clips for iPhone?

App Clips exposes the core functionality of a larger app without making you download or install any software to store on your phone.

For example, the current process to do something like unlocking an electric scooter requires you to find that company's app in the App Store, download it, create an account and then enter your payment information. It's a process that takes several minutes and isn't very convenient. 

With an App Clip, however, you'd only need to scan a QR Code or tap your phone against an NFC tag on the scooter you want to rent, for example, to display a small card on your iPhone. 

Then, instead of giving access to the full app's functionality, such as a map of where all available scooters are, the App Clip will only include whatever's necessary to unlock and rent the scooter. It will draw on Apple Pay to verify and secure your payment.

chibi-app-clip

It looks and works like a full app, but it's really just a clip. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Are there any App Clips I can use now? 

Yes! Panera Bread and ChibiStudio both have App Clips that show a wide range of potential use cases for clips. For its part, Panera will show you the menu for a local location and allow you to order directly from within Apple Maps, while ChibiStudio's app clip lets you create your own personal avatar, or chibi, without downloading the full app. 

You can find Panera's App Clip by opening Apple Maps on your iPhone and searching for and viewing details of a Panera Bread location. Near the top of the details pane will be a button labeled Order Food; tap it, followed by Open. You're now using an app clip. 

As for ChibiStudio, you will need to visit the app's website on your iPhone and tap the Play button on the banner at the top of the screen. 

app-library-ios-14

The App Library in iOS 14 will hide your App Clips. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

If it's not the full app, how do I create an account?

Clips will use Apple's "Sign in with Apple" feature. The service creates an account for you, linking it to your Apple ID, forgoing the need for you to come up with a new password. And if you want, it can even hide your email address from the service, keeping your personal information private, and keeping you from potentially getting more email spam. 

How do I make payments in App Clips?

App Clips will use any debit or credit cards you've added to Apple Pay. 

How do I add an App Clip?

Adding an App Clip to your iPhone can be done using a number of different ways. App Clips can be a link on a company's website, shared in an iMessage conversation, on a business listing in Apple Maps or by touching your phone to an NFC tag or scanning a QR code with the Camera app. 

Apple also created specialized App Clip codes that let you know it'll add the miniaturized version of the app if you scan it. 

After viewing the info of an App Clip, which pops up from the bottom of your screen as a small card, you can tap on Open to add the Clip to your phone.

Once a Clip is added to your phone, you won't have to go through the process of adding it again to your iPhone the next time you want to use it, unless, of course, you deleted it after you were done. 

Where do I find App Clips I've added?

App Clips won't clutter up your homescreen as regular app icons do. Instead, you'll be able to find them in the new App Library that made its debut in iOS 14. You can easily identify App Clips because they have a dotted border around the app icon. 

The App Library acts as an app drawer, organizing any installed apps and clips into folders based on category. 

What are App Clips useful for?

As I talked about at the beginning of this post, you'll be able to use App Clips to make everyday tasks easier. Eventually you'll also be able to use them to join the waitlist at a nearby restaurant, make a reservation or even go through the initial setup process for a connected device like an Instant Pot or smart light bulb

It's up to developers to come up with new ways for you to use App Clips with their apps. Maybe you'll be able to use App Clips to find out which song is playing, try out a new photo filter or to upload a quick video to a social network.

app-clips-ios-14.png

You can use App Clips to view all sorts of information. 

Apple

Am I stuck with just an App Clip? Or can I upgrade to the full app?

At any time you can download and install the full app if you need to do more than what the App Clip provides. For instance, if after setting up your smart light bulb you want to connect it to other services or take full control, you could then install the full app from the App Store. 

How do I delete an App Clip? 

Deleting apps on iOS 14 has changed and it can be confusing. You'll find any clips you've used in the app library's recently added folder, and you should be able to long-press on the clip the select delete from the pop up. Clips you haven't used in the last 30 days are automatically deleted, but there's another way you can delete clips. 

Go to Settings > App Clips where you'll find a list of all app clips currently available on your iPhone, and you'll have the option to delete them individually, or all of them at the same time. 

If you've found an App Clip somewhere and think it's worth sharing, let us know in the comments below.  We've been using iOS 14 for awhile now, and have found a handful of features we love, including the new customizable widget and even some hidden features that are pretty amazing. We're also excited about iOS 15 and what it brings, even if it won't launch until this fall.