Amid Google’s splashy demos of its smart speaker and slick new video app at its IO conference on Wednesday, the company tucked a quick preview that could have bigger implications for app creators than anything else it debuted on stage:
The idea is that people can tap on a URL and open an Android app instantly without having to install it. In essence, it blurs the line between the web and apps to an unprecendented level.
This has obvious benefits for users — you won’t have to waste phone space downloading an app that you’d rarely use — but it’s also a huge shift for developers.
“The thing we heard from every developer was, ‘Oh my god, this changes the way we think about things,'” Shobana Ravi, an engineer who worked on Instant Apps, tells Business Insider. “For them, we were breaking their existing world, but in a good way.”
The biggest advantage for developers is that it eliminates a huge hurdle of getting people to use their products.
“I hear people say ‘I don’t want to download that’ all the time but when was the last time someone hesitated on visiting a website, at least at the home page, because of potential hassle?” Ryan Matzner, from app development company Fuelled says. “If it really pans out, it could be a game-changer. It’s hard to over-estimate how powerful this could be if it actually works out.”
Google has been working with a small set of partners, including Buzzfeed and Hotel Tonight, and says that developers won’t have to build separate apps, just update their existing ones. But one of the big questions for developers, then, will be deciding which parts of their app to pull via link.
The technical side of Instant Apps won’t be that complicated to implement once it starts expanding the Android feature later this year, according to Ravi.
“Getting them to understand the concept, and how it changes their world, is the bigger challenge,” she says.
From Google’s perspective, Instant Apps makes business sense, too, by protecting its search business. Google has spent the last two years convincing app makers to “index” their content to allow it to be searchable by its algorithms in a process called “deep linking.” Without deep linking, Google’s web crawlers can’t include an app’s info in its search results.
Google recently announced that more than half of its search queries come from mobile. But that stat crashes into another one: That people spend most of their time on smartphones within specific apps — so much that app usage now represents 86% of time spent on mobile, according to analytic company Flurry.
Google wants users to start their search for “best hotels in Chicago” through its engine rather than starting on HotelTonight, because that allows it to sell ads against those searches.