It’s been more than a month since Google I/O happened. There were myriad announcements ranging from smarter homes to better messaging apps. There was one such announcement that came up pretty much like a tiny addition.‘We are building some cool stuff in VR, voice assistant, home automation and yeah, there’s this thing called Instant Apps’. Fascinating, because the implications are deep for what sounds like a simple concept.
At the core of Instant apps is modularity – your entire app can be made so modular, that a user can just use the part she needs without downloading the entire app.
But first, some context.
The house of the undiscovered
Here’s the deal – if you go to the app store / play store right now, you will see a handful of apps, whose developers need to have a relationship with Apple and Google. You’d then see a list of top apps – this is where plutocracy arrives well and truly. The more you spend, the more your apps get downloaded, the longer it stays in the top charts and the more they get downloaded, and very soon becomes a classic case of the ‘rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer’. Leveling factors in the ranking algorithm such as engagement may at best be a deterrent to someone gaming the system for a quick win. That leaves us with a handful of apps driving billions of installs.
The remaining 2+ million apps are neatly stationed at the house of the undiscovered.
Your phone is bursting at its seams
The App economy saturation theories are largely positioned towards one key hypothesis: that the limited space on mobile devices is overwhelmed with one app too many. To a large extent, this is true. Space is gold. Every 1 dollar you spend on additional storage is exactly 1 dollar more than what you want to spend. The first ones to get the axe – apps that you did not use this entire week.
The force of friction
While building products, the one thing that is drilled down by product teams is that every step, no matter how small is a drop-off point. Every click, every new page transition, every second of loading time, every false start is a drop-off zone. So when apps are pushed down your throat, not only are you constrained by space and data, you are taken to a page where you’ve to wait it out before you finally experience the app.
The list is clear
Arya Stark had 13 names to chop off. The app stores have only 3. We can only imagine the guys at Google reciting these 3 names every night before they slept. Discovery, Space, Friction. Discovery, spa…
The summer is here
Instant Apps. You search for a particular transaction on your favorite search engine. The results also include an app. You click on it and instead of going to the play store, you are taken directly to the app. The app may ask for a couple of permissions before you go ahead with the transaction. You say ok and bingo, your entire transaction is over in a jiffy. You probably harnessed a few native features such as camera or maps while at it. Beauty, isn’t it? Right before you quit, you may be asked to install the app. You make a decision to install or not, depending upon the frequency of this transaction, the quality of the experience and space. A much more informed decision than ever before.
If this goes well, in one shot, Google might have just knocked off its three tormentors – discovery, space and friction.
This is not entirely new thinking
Facebook in late 2012 launched what was innocuously called as the ‘Play Now’ feature. This allowed users to be directly taken to the game interface without the annoying permissions box. Users would, at a more critical point in the game, be prompted with permissions. No install friction whatsoever. On the face of it, this should have been a brilliant move.
In reality however, this did not work out so well. Disregarding cases of misuse by Facebook app developers and accidental junk users, the single biggest reason, in my opinion, of ‘Play Now’ not working out all that well, is the lack of original intent from the users.
Why ‘Instant Apps’ is unlike ‘Facebook Play Now’
Intent. With Instant apps, users arrive with an intent to the app. In the world of products, intent trumps everything else.
When you combine the intent from a Google search with a discoverable, frictionless experience, the result may just be magic.
There has to be something that can go wrong
For all the goodness instant apps bring to the world, there are large barriers to its adoption. Operational hassles to ensure feature parity across platforms, especially given the disconnected mobile and web teams in organizations would be a deep pit to cross.
It will now all be about that single transaction. Hell hath no fury like a user with intent scorned. Ensuring a bug-free experience is by no means a small task. This is where tools like Hansel.io (Disclaimer: I work here) would help developers instantly hotfix any bug that might crop up anywhere, at scale.
Companies may need to build for an entirely new way of working. Despite these barriers, they would be forced to adopt should the end users deem it necessary.
Google has led the way in trying to provide users an enriched experience. Apple would not lag behind; given that they are working on App thinning for some time. It would be fascinating to watch how this plays out over the next couple of years.
Despite what the naysayers say, the app economy might have well and truly just begun.