Have you ever wondered what it would be like to not have to download an app in order to be able to use it? I mean for example the flashlight apps that we keep on our devices are not going to take much time to download and install, and do not serve any purpose in being stored on our devices forever. So until and unless we are living under a rock, we can actually make do with the fact that we are able to access it whenever needed and do not need to have them taken up the space on our devices.
Google has come up with a solution to this problem – Android Instant Apps. These are the apps that you can use without ever needing to download them completely on your phone (or store them till eternity there). Simply go to Play Store, find the app you need to use, and click on Open App. In fact, it would let you directly go to the function you have to use (an app that you actually don’t have installed on your device) – all by clicking on a URL. The feature has been made available to some users and would be rolled out soon for the rest of the Android population. Read on to understand what Instant Apps are and how they are going to affect us, the users as well as the developers.
Android Instant Apps – Basics & Usage
If you have either a Nexus or Pixel device, simply switch on the option in your Settings to use Android Instant Apps. Go to the section named Personal, find and tap on Google, and later Services. Scroll down to Instant Apps and click on Yes I’m in. This will provide you access to instant apps, and you can try it out with apps like BuzzFeed or Wish, who have already adopted to this instant feature.
In case you do not have a Nexus or Pixel, you would have to wait some time as these apps would not be available for you just yet.
A user can also launch these apps using a URL. The feature is useful and functional as it lets you control your web browsing more and provides better functionality as well as better sharing.
Android Instant Apps – Impact on Users
As we have gone through the basics of these instant apps, let’s discuss how it is going to impact the typical user. We can safely say that the feature is pretty exciting and can bring about a huge change in the ways we are using apps and our smartphones right now. You would find that many apps in Google Play Store are just downloaded for a one time usage – and it is probable you would never ever use them again.
But still such apps keep on taking precious space in our device storage, that too in the times of 16GB or lesser internal storage. Though we understand that a user can always install an app and uninstall it later, but these instant apps are bound to save so much time and space streamlining the whole process that no one can deny the efficiency that is going to come this way. An app is always preferred over a website and these instant apps are going to make it easier for us to go down the app road as no more hassles of installing and downloading.
You can even directly land on to the page you need without having to install the app or going through other useless information. As Google explained that using the instant apps a user would be able to tap their phone on a parking meter and have open the parking app via NFC directly on the payments page and pay using Android Pay. One more such example could be being able to share and solve a crossword puzzle with a friend using WhatsApp. You just send the link and no need to download the app or navigating as it will directly lead to the page you are on within the app.
Such examples make it clear how big a role these instant apps are going to play in the technological evolution concerning our online presence. As you might have noticed the networks are getting more and more evolved with the data limits and usage, which indicates to a near future where internet speeds would increase phenomenally and cloud storages would be used everywhere. In such a future, we are positive that the need to install and download stuff would actually practically diminish and the need of expensive and huge hardware storage spaces would go away. This will lead to having apps being downloaded and installed on a server only, something which sounds a lot like these instant apps. And that is why these apps are going to lead us in the future of internet consumption and usage.
Android Instant Apps – Security & Limitations
You might worry about the security issue with these instant apps. Let’s say the webpage could actually install an app on our device for the time being and have us billed through our Android Pay account? These apps do come with their own pack of security concerns, but there are precautions and measures in place, which means we as a user can relax for most time. The traffic from these apps uses HTTPS for example. A smart lock would always be needed to sign in, which will keep sure the process is fast and hassle free. You would be required to give out permissions without which an app won’t be able to bill you or access your contact list.
An FAQ page on Google’s Instant App points out all these permissions that these apps would need –
READ_PHONE_NUMBERS only in Android O.
INSTANT_APP_FOREGROUND_SERVICE only in Android O.
While accepting permissions, do take care that any permission that this list does not contain is not actually supported by Instant Apps which includes stuff like Bluetooth, Set Wallpaper or Use Fingerprint. You may note that these instant apps also do not have the support of background services, which means these can not run in the back without your knowledge. These can not access external storage or send notifications, or look for other installed apps on your smartphone.
These apps come with a size limit of course, and an app can have 4MB for each feature or each activity (page). This again will limit the app’s potential to harm or break through your security, meaning developers can not design apps full with rich data. However, an app like a full 3D game is exempted at the moment by Google, which stated that games as highly specialized category within apps have unique tools, assets and other requirements. Fair enough. This means right now or in some time coming, you can create very basic 2D games or puzzle games, and we all would have to wait to see where it goes with games.
Only future has the answer to the question of these limitations being done with or having more on their way. Also, there is no parallel feature available in iOS for these instant apps, and it remains to be seen how app developers adopt this whole change.
Android Instant Apps – Businesses & App Developers
We expect businesses and developers to be pretty excited about this whole instant apps business, as it is going to provide them with lot of opportunities to create engagement and have new users trying their products, which might end in increased sales. However, these instant apps will have website links which would have more dynamic content which will lead to awareness about location and in app purchases among other things. In such a case, these businesses are required to provide a hassle-free and smooth transition between different apps and different webpages.
As you link pages within apps, more and more apps would be discovered which might have been ignored previously, over all increasing the traffic. These instant apps are going to benefit those businesses a lot which primarily were playing on the marketing potential of their apps. Though apps which were going to make moolah by advertising or app installs, the benefits are going to probably fall down.
These instant apps are going to be supported by all Android versions up to Jelly Bean, which means a lot of users all over the world would be able to use them (not on iOS though), and this might mean not all the web pages would be interested in making them a part of their website.
Android Instant Apps – Developing & Implementing
We can talk a little about how developers are going to create these instant apps. Android Studio 3.0 would be released which will have instant app support. You would have to download the Instant Apps SDK from SDK Manager, using app links assistant you would be able to easily add links. Testing would be done in local environments by emulators. Feature modules are going to be the biggest change, which would work like libraries having their own code and you would be able to access them through the installable app.
However, for instant apps they would be individual .apks, and instant app module would be like a .zip for these feature modules. To make an instant app from a regular app, you would have to go the app links assistant road which will change and define entry points as well as URLs. You would then move on to convert the application module which would be placed inside the base feature module. The application would be renamed as a feature and the Gradle file would be changed. Thus the feature would take place of application in the address.
A line would be needed to Gradle which would define base feature. You may thus conclude that your current app will have an application module, while the main app would make do with a base feature one, and a feature one would be need for instant apps. These app modules thus depend on the base feature module and would be dependent on Gradle files.
The whole process is expected to take lesser than a day for a standard app, but the time taken would also depend on the type of app you have, its structure as well as scale of your project. If you need to create more and more steps and have each page run as a different instant app in the Store, then you would need more steps.
Android Instant Apps – Best Practices
Surely Instant Apps are going to challenge designers and developers and would require a certain change in the way of operation and thinking to work functionally. Google has in fact come up with certain best practices. It has advised the developers to not urge users aggressively to install the full version of their application.
As a developer, one can have a prompt button for install, but it must be subtle, and can not be done more than three times. UI branching needs to be avoided as well as having splash screens for individual pages. Developers need to provide Smart Locks to have users log in and out easily. The whole guide basically emphasizes the fact that the transition between web page and app needs to be easy and hassle free, while keeping in mind that these pages would be loaded from a regular app. These instant apps seem to have a lot of potential and we can not wait to have the whole bunch of them live and functional. What do you think – let us know in the section below.