A Guide to Android Instant Apps
What are Instant Apps?
Android instant apps are native Android apps, which users can experience and use on-the-fly, by simply tapping the URL, without the hassles of downloading the app. Using an Instant App is akin to browsing to a web page, but with the look, feel, and capabilities of a conventional Android app. The instant app remains on the smartphone as long as the user uses it. Once the app window is closed, the app disappears.
Instant apps represent an evolution in app technology. Apart from the obvious convenience of instant, hassle-free use, these apps score high on performance, have superior capabilities, and highly intuitive user interfaces.
The Raison d’etre for Instant Apps
Instant Apps in a sense combines the best of native apps and web apps. It delivers the speed and the power of a native app while retaining the ease and immediacy of a web app. It is accessible on just about any Android smartphone, just as one access a webpage. Instant apps also offer a significant advantage in that it can be shared, thereby doing away with one big drawback of apps.
For developers, the instant app offers a solid and viable technology for the hitherto ad-hoc process of getting a user from the mobile web into a native app.
Distinguishing Features of Instant Apps
Instant apps are in no way inferior to conventional downloadable apps. Subject to the scope of the app, and the functionality provided by the developer in the first place, it is possible to sign up for new accounts, login to accounts, make purchases, view videos, and do most of the things a user does with a normal app. However, instant apps offer the scope to deliver a specific portion of their app to a user at a specific time. As such, developers could make available only one or a few specific functionalities of the app to a particular user, and “lock” the rest of the app.
Instant apps are similar to progressive web apps in that it works online. However, some features which require real-time updates, such as opening an account, could be done only when the device used to access the instant app is connected to a network.
How to Develop Android Instant App
Android Instant Apps is essentially an upgrade to the existing Android app, rather than a new distinct app. It uses the same project and the same source code, with the same set of Android APIs. The first task, therefore, is to develop an Android app the normal way. Developers then need to use the tools available at the Android Studio to modularize the developed or existing app. Modularization involves partitioning the app into small, runnable parts. This is necessary so that users may load only the portion or module of the app they require, and such portion loads within seconds.
To get started building an instant app, download Android Studio 3.0 and install the Instant Apps Development SDK.
Set Up and Use
Google’s Instant Apps is now available in the Play Store, allowing any user to access available instant apps with just a click. It may be located in the same way as searching for an app on the Play Store, accessed through conventional search, or users may also send links to others, opening up to the instant app.
However, to access Instant apps, the user needs to enable Instant Apps for the account on the smartphone, tablet or any other device through which they access the app.
The option is present in
Google Account settings →
Instant Apps →
flip the toggle on, and tap Yes.
Instant apps work just as seamless as the regular app and launches in a similar way to any regular app. The only distinguishing factor from a regular app is the invariable link at the top of the screen, to download the full app.
Instant apps are already a rage, and several companies have already started reaping leveraging it to reap rich benefits.
Consider the case of Hothead Games, who used instant apps to deliver an intuitive user experience around the Mighty Battles battle game tutorial. Using instant apps allowed the company to improve optimization settings, and reduce the programme size, reducing the ~104MB sized APK to under 9MB. The entire development process took just three weeks to complete.
Vimeo, the popular video sharing platform, enabled instant app support to reduce their 15MB installed app down to a 4MB feature module. Using instant apps removes the unused libraries, and creates a smaller image caching library compared to a conventional app. The instant app replicates the look and feel of the conventional app, and delivers a fine-tuned Android experience. Users have responded positively, as evident from the 130% increase in video sessions and the instant app matching the install rate for the mobile website, within just a few months since its May 2017 launch.
Google’s attempt at bridging the mobile web world with that of native applications holds untold potential for marketers and enterprises of all hues. It enables enterprises to push their apps to their customers and other stakeholders, without requiring too much of an effort or commitment in the form of downloads. However, success depends on developing the app the right way and positioning it perfectly. A competent Android application developer, sound in industry best practices, and with solid exposure to delivering business use-cases, is required to put the technology in action, the right way.
Vinod has conceptualized and delivered niche mobility products that cater to various domains including logistics, media & non-profits. He leads, mentors & coaches a team of Project Coordinators & Analysts at Fingent.