Rocket ship launching from an iPhone screen

What if there was a way to make native Android apps more accessible, quicker to launch, and available to more versions of the Android operating system without having to even be installed on a device? And what if this was possible without having to reversion the entire source code of your app?

As of the last version of the OS, Nougat, Google has created a way to do this: Android Instant Apps. They’re smaller subsets of your app that allow single pages or features of your app to be downloaded and accessed on demand, without installation. Instant Apps will roll out to users within the next year, but Google is already making it available to developers on a limited basis to test its functionality.

If you’re wondering what the benefits of Instant Apps are and what the process of upgrading your app to one looks like, read on.

What are Android Instant Apps?

It’s now going to be possible to make your app as fast and easy to open as it is to click a link in a browser and load a website. Android Instant Apps is an update you can make to your existing Android app that, in Google’s words, “makes it possible for people to access a wider range of apps, seamlessly.”

So how do Instant Apps work?

Imagine a freelancer wants to search for available jobs while sitting at a train station. He pulls out his Android phone, opens Chrome, and types “Java Developer Freelancing Jobs” into Google. Google provides the search results, and one of them is a job posted on Upwork. He clicks the link and it directs him to a Job Details page on Upwork’s mobile website.

In an Instant App scenario, however, that link would download the “Job Details” page module of Upwork’s Android app and display that page, with all of its built-in mobile app functionality. For the user, this native experience via the downloaded module is generally much richer and with better performance (scrolling, speed, etc.) than a web experience.

Creating an Instant App version can provide your app’s users with many other UX benefits, like:

  • All the pros of native apps without requiring installation. Instant Apps are the same native app source code you’ve already written, but users can access them with a single click on a URL, just like a webpage. They’re like subsets of your app—modules of specific parts of your app that can be downloaded and accessed on demand. They’ve got the same functionality (whether it’s the camera, the GPS, etc.) and same accessibility, just no installation required. (To learn more about native apps, check out this article.)
  • Reducing “install friction” and getting more customers into your app, quicker. It’s all about decreasing the number of taps it would typically take for a user to get to a certain place in your app—whether that’s making a purchase or landing on a specific page within your app.
  • Deep links will direct users to your app—not your mobile site. This means they get the same immersive experience (and the animation, design and functionality) of your app when they click on a search link, a social link, or a link shared via messaging, but they won’t need to have your app installed to get that experience. This is because the Instant App version of your app is modularized. Whatever “page” in your app they’re trying to reach will be a module that Google can download on the fly and serve up to users—so it’s quick and easy.
  • Update your existing app—no need to create a new, separate app. Google says “it’s the same Android APIs, the same project, the same source code.” In fact, depending on the complexity of your app and how it is structured, a skilled Android developer could update your app to Instant App functionality in less than a day.
  • Instant Apps are supported by more operating systems. Google says that Instant App functionality will make your app accessible for users with devices dating back to Jelly Bean, the 4.1 Android OS release. For Android apps, there’s often a compromise between the cost and reward of maintaining multiple versions of your app, but Instant Apps build in a broader range of accessibility. The only catch: devices need to have Google Play services installed.
  • Ecommerce checkout is easy with instant access to Android Pay. Just like when using your app, a user who comes to your Instant App and wants to make a purchase has immediate access and is already logged in.

What does it take to update to Instant App functionality?

As mentioned above, it’s pretty simple to update an existing app’s source code with the help of an Android developer.

  1. Modularize the components of your app in Android Studio. When your source code is modularized, Google is able to download the components it needs to run the app on the fly. Think of each page in your app as a module, or a single feature that makes sense to standalone. Using Upwork’s app as an example, specific Instant App modules could be the Registration page, a Job Details page, or a user’s Profile Page. For an app like Amazon, modules would be pages like a log-in page, Item Details page, or the checkout page. If a user clicks a search link to a specific Instant App page, that module of code (the Android Activity written to display that designer) gets downloaded and served up instantly.
  2. This will give you two versions of your APK. The installable APK will run as usual; the instant version will be the one Google identifies as an Instant App.
  3. Add an installation option. Users are able to download your app while using the Instant App functionality by way of an “INSTALL” call-to-action at the top of the Instant App screen. The version they download will be installed on their phone when they’re finished using your Instant App version.

If you’re a developer and you want to give Instant Apps a try, note that Google is rolling it out to interested developers who sign up here.

If you’re a business owner with an Android app and you want to get your app upgraded, engage one of the thousands of Android developers on Upwork and get started today! Or, learn more about Android app development as a whole in this article.