Instant apps: next step in mobile?

Remember like back in the 2000s we thought that nothing would surpass the popularity of web sites? Well, some 15 years later we all face the fact that mobile apps have already become a more popular thing and people spend more time in apps rather than on traditional web sites. Are mobile apps the next big thing? Google thinks no. Meet instant apps.

After previewing instant apps during the last year’s Google I/O conference, the company has officially introduced first four instant mobile apps, which are a hybrid between an app and a web page.

You may ask what’s wrong with a good old web page. The answer is that it’s not really functional. Despite of all attempts to make it look like a program (nice try, Java, Flash, VRML, but no), a page is just a page and it yields to native apps. Yes, it is usable, but application is almost always more efficient in terms of performance in modern mobile-first world.

Thus, mobile apps have rightfully replaced web pages as the primary way of interacting with smartphones. Indeed, instead of trying to read all those small letters and navigation links, it’s far better to launch a specialized app with a single tap on a screen. “There is an app for that” – a motto that reflects the new reality.

But the future of apps is not as bright as it may seem. According to different surveys among app users, most of app time is spent within a couple of most popular apps (like social networks, messengers) while other apps are visited only form time to time. Why so? The short answer is that users have negative attitude towards mobile apps.

The reason for this negative attitude is that pretty often you need a mobile app only once: to read the content available in it or to take some action, which is possible only within the app. After that the app is useless. To do such single operation you need to install an app, and before that – read the reviews on app store, check the rating (in order not to get scammed), give the app certain permissions, etc. A lot of actions to achieve a single goal, which is why such an application most probably will be deleted after a single launch.

The main goal of instant apps is to change this situation. The thing with them is that the app is divided into modules (one module can’t be larger than 4 MB) and these modules are downloaded one by one and provide only the functions necessary at the moment. If you need additional functions, another module is downloaded. Also, such apps don’t require a lot of permissions, they are restricted by RAM and launch by clicking on URL. After you close instant app, it doesn’t occupy any RAM at all.

The main idea behind instant apps is that a user doesn’t spend time thinking whether she needs to install it or not. There’s simply no such process as installation. You click to open the app, if you don’t like it, you just close it and that’s all! It’s just like a web page, but it’s not a regular HTML5 page, but almost fully-functional app, with all the perks. Thus, the bottleneck of mobile software is eliminated not only for users, as it is easier to try the app before installing it, but also for developers, for whom it is easier to convince users to try their app. And of course, instant app can be used by large mobile development companies to create trial versions of their apps or programs.

As mentioned above, at the moment only four apps have instant versions. The SDK is scheduled for release in a couple of months. Meanwhile, developers are recommended to make the necessary changes to the structure of their apps to be able to introduce an instant version.

And last but not least thing to mention. While everything looks great, there’s one problem. Any security issue with instant apps can cast ill fame on them. While officially they will be supported by OS version 6 and higher, they will be able to work on OS 4.1, which means that there’re thousands of unsupported devices where instant apps can be exploited.

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