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Android Instant Apps: Google wants your apps to load without a download


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At Google I/O, the team behind Android announced a plan to get the key elements of apps without the wait

I’m not a big apps user. Like everyone else, I went through a brief flurry of downloading everything that might plausibly be useful before realising that really I’d just rather use a well-designed mobile web page than bother with yet another app clogging up my homescreen begging for ratings.

The trouble is that the concept of a “well-designed mobile web page” is pretty foreign to plenty of companies who would far rather you kept their app full time, clogging up your homepage. Google has come up with a compromise between the two which could actually work pretty nicely: Android Instant Apps.

Announced at this year’s Google I/O, it works by offering developers the opportunity to make a modular version of their app with just the core functionality, slimmed down to a maximum of 4MB. It will load as quickly as a mobile web page, but appear – to all intents and purposes – like you’ve downloaded the app and gone through the whole tedious experience of installing it in the blink of an eye.

Google offered some interesting real-world scenarios. Imagine you want to park your car in a big city, but don’t have change. The parking meter has an Instant App NFC link where you can quickly pay for your parking (via Android Pay, obviously) without needing to keep the app permanently. Because, let’s face it, paying for expensive parking spots in cities is a treat best enjoyed occasionally.

A second example saw a Buzzfeed video getting shared, where the app just provided the relevant section. If the person likes what they see, they can just tap a button to install the full app.

In short, Android Instant Apps includes the best bits of apps (mobile optimised) without the worst bits (navigating the app store and waiting). It’s also amazingly backwards-compatible with every version of Android up to Jelly Bean. That means that – according to Google’s most recent figures – a whopping 95.7% of Android users will be able to join the fun.

It remains to be seen what interesting functionality developers will find for the slimmed-down instant apps, but with that kind of install base, there’s certainly the incentive to get it right.

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