Instant Apps - What They Are And Why They Make Sense
If it’s one term that is thrown around excessively in the tech world is that "Apps are the future of....", whether it is employment, healthcare, communication or the economy as a whole. To a great extent this is true. The app ecosystem has many success stories. Look no further than the recent $1bn acquisition of Instagram.
Despite all the wonderful things about apps, there are still some annoyances with the entire process: from entering the app store, to searching, clicking install, then typing your password. And that is only what marks the beginning of the app download. There is a certain lag from discovering the app to finally using it.
Now this is where Instant Apps would come in handy.
What Are Instant Apps?
Imagine a scenario where you are at a department store and need to look for something particular, or just browse what’s new. You could ask for help from employees (if you ever find them), you could browse the entire place (yeah, right), or you could look for a catalogue. All these are normal ways to accomplish the task. Or...
Or what if your phone beeps and you get a notification saying (1) New Instant App when you enter the store. You open it and there it is: the entire store catalogue, searchable, sortable, instant. Its not an app that you download, nor is it a web page: it’s a bit of both. It has product details, specs, and even user reviews.
What did I just describe? It's basically an app you don't have on your phone but as soon as you click on the notification you are taken to what seems like one. It may all just be an HTML5 webpage like the Gmail app for iOS. The accessibility part of it is something along the lines of what QR Codes and NFC do (by taking you say, a website), but in this scenario you have a full screen app (sans browser toolbars and such)
Moving on, scenario two: Movie theatre. You need drinks. Open the instant app for the theatre, order the drinks and the staff brings it to you. No more going to the snack bar and missing part of the movie. You could apply this to the entire food ordering process at any place.
Still not convinced? Here's scenario three: App Store. You need to see how the app works before you buy it. You click "Try It". An Instant App opens and lets you experience the app instead of just seeing screenshots. This might not work for heavy games, I admit. But a video could be used.
And just for the sake of it, scenario four: Payments. Let's say you have your credit card credentials stored on your phone like the twitter account in iOS 5. Now any place you go, you pay from the place's instant app. The receipt is there on your phone and you just tap pay. I guess this is something vaguely familiar to Google Wallet(?).
How It Might Work
The idea did seem very useful but before I got all hyped up about it, I needed to think of a way to make it realistic (I can't pull off a Google Project Glass). There are a couple of things that came into mind:
Firstly, no matter how instant the app may be, you still need to get it to the phone and that requires the app to be downloaded. There are a couple of ways to get that done and keep it instant. Standards could be set to allow the app to be no larger than say 15MB. With LTE connections, downloading this data can be instant. For a place like a movie theatre with a poor connection, the app could be pushed to the phone via something like Wi-Fi Direct.
Within the app itself there can be the option of install this app; where it might just put the existing instant app on the homescreen/menu, or it may download a full version of the app onto the phone then.
How Does The Phone Detect It?
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is NFC. If that has low range then something like Bluetooth 4.0 can be used to notify the phone that there is an Instant App available.
Security and Sanity
There's no denying that there can be huge security risk for pushing apps to a phone. I would suggest that they go through the same approval process as normal apps do. The phone would not accept them unless they're not authorized apps.
Secondly, the system would be opt-in. You could turn off Instant Apps just like you would turn off notifications for an app.
Thirdly, there need to be guidelines on what the app is allowed to do. The first thing that comes to mind is that it should perform a function rather than just act as a billboard. Guidelines could be similar to what Apple does with multitasking. In this case, apps would only be allowed to say, serve catalogues or navigation of a place, or allow interaction with the app e.g. ability to buy a product selling at that place and so on.
The Idea Isn't Perfect But..
I totally understand this how this could be misused in so many ways, but to a great extent this makes a lot of sense too. We constantly demand more from our devices and I feel this is a step towards it. This may be the ultimate targeted ad. But it has the potential to be less annoying than every other ad. Things like user reviews for products at a store or food at a restaurant may benefit both the user and the business: the users could see what others like and businesses can see what the users actually feel about a certain product.
In the current situation where app stores are saturated with apps, this can also be a good way for businesses to get customers to their official app.
Will we ever see this in action? Maybe, maybe not. Apple, Google and other smartphone OS companies probably have the next few years of their software already planned out. But it will be nice to see it implemented sometime in the future.