Web browsers are no longer limited to opening web pages, but are becoming a new platform in itself. Platforms such as AirConsole allow users to use their laptop as the screen, web browser as the console and smartphone as the controller to play games. Google’s new Android Instant Apps program is built on a similar premise of flexibility and convenience, but will be limited to mobile browsers for the moment. It will allow users to run a version of a mobile app on a mobile browser even if the native app is not installed on their smartphone.
What makes Instant Apps different from apps that already have a version for mobile browsers such as Facebook or Amazon is that they can run those apps and even games which do not have a version for web or mobile browsers.
Announced first at the Google’s I/O developer conference in Mountain View California in May 2016, Instant Apps is a part of Google’s Early Access program and will be available only to users who sign up for it with the Android Instant Apps webpage.
How it works
User can open a mobile app in mobile browser by typing the name of the app in their mobile browser and tapping on the app icon that shows in the search results. In a regular scenario users will be redirected to the Google Play Store so they can install the app. With Instant Apps, user will remain on the mobile browser and access many of the features of the original app on it. Instant Apps, however, cannot replicate the entire app experience as it can’t use background services or access unique device identifiers that are available to native apps.
Apps for Instant Apps program will be built using the same Android API, project and source code that are used in apps. Developers can put their apps on Instant Apps by creating separate build artefact for Instant Apps version besides the APK file.
Why it matters
As of now only four apps Periscope, Buzzfeed, Viki and Wish are available on Instant Apps platform. Apps on Instant Apps will be the exact replica of the mobile app in terms of the visual appearance, and also with most of its features. So if you open Periscope on mobile browser, you can access all its features such as live streaming, typing comments, expressing likes or dislikes form the browser itself. This will do away with the need to download multiple apps on one’s phone.