January 24, 2017
Oh, hello friends, it's been too long! But I couldn't let today's news stay this far under the radar. With a relatively small announcement on its blog, Google announced that the first Instant Apps have gone live! As a reminder, Instant Apps are Android apps that are internally compartmentalized into individual views (atoms) that your users can interact with from web search results. For instance, if a customer only needs to find the nearest bank ATM, they shouldn't need to download your app (and use precious device storage) to do that — now they simply interact with the appropriate screen within the existing app delivered via the web! This immediately changes how companies deliver mobile experiences. Why? Because it knocks down 3 major stumbling blocks of mobile experience development:
- App discovery is hard. Users find content with web search engines. Instant Apps brings that same power to finding app experiences. Getting people into an app store is hard. Finding your app once there is hard (Our recent data shows that only 26% of smartphone users find new apps through app store searches). Ensuring their device has enough free space, and that no angry reviews scare them off is hard. Deep linking was a bandaid for some of these ills, but Instant Apps will solve them all by delivering a complete native experience as the result of a web search.
- Great mobile app experiences are better than functional browser experiences. You'll notice I didn't use the word "native" — users don't care how you build them, but they do assume that if they install an app it will provide a premier experience over the web. This is due to long-standing perceptions that we all have about the mobile web; it's slow to load, doesn't work offline, and isn't a differentiated experience on my shiny new iPhone 7 vs. my old Samsung S5. We build today's web to today's web standards (which will also change this year, but more on that in a bit) and also to the lowest common mobile browser denominator (looking at you Safari). This limits how amazing a mobile web experience can be. Instant Apps solves this by allowing companies to deliver an experience built directly for the device in your customers' hand, not for the common browser for all devices in all hands.
- Building apps is hard. Many clients that I work with know what their app MVP should look like, but struggle to deliver that quickly and iterate on new features after delivery. Instant Apps, by their componentized nature, will force development teams to build concise functional elements that are then bundled into an Android APK. This forcing function will benefit both the web-delivered experience as well as the traditional app-delivered experience which leads to a better model for mobile development.
But what about iOS? Unfortunately there's nothing on the public horizon that mimics this componentized model for Apple's platform. That said, if this is as successful as I believe it will be, Apple will have to react in a way that solves these three issues on their platform as well.
This is the tip of the iceberg. There are many advancements in browser standards, cross-platform mobile tooling, and development paradigms that are going live in 2017 that it is lining up to be a transformative year for mobile development, regardless of the experiences you're creating.