Blog Instant Apps: Could they eat the world?

Instant Apps: Could they eat the world?

Instant Apps: what are they, and why are they getting more and more attention? Google announced Android Instant Apps at last year’s Google I/O developer conference, and since then has been slowly rolling out and testing the new product in a limited release. There’s a lot that could happen with the format, so we’re here to look at the details, and also talk about the scenarios where Instant Apps could have a profound effect on the industry.

What are Instant Apps?

Instant Apps provide users with a functional app experience without a full install. They’re a portion of an app which can be opened from a URL found either in a link, banner ad, or other variation. So, for instance, you want to order a taxi, or lunch, or a hotel - an Instant App would show you the slice of the app which allows you to perform the transaction, without having to download all of the other features.

Instant Apps are designed to give users exactly what they need at a precise moment; providing content instantly while removing the barrier of installation. There could be many potential benefits to Instant Apps, from streamlining new user onboarding to reducing data usage, and also creating an easy way to share in-app experiences without having to convince people to download the full app (with all the permissions attached.) Furthermore, for users without much storage left, Instant Apps could provide the stopgap that allows further app downloads, even with a full memory.

With significant uptake, Instant Apps could prove to be a very powerful force in the marketplace, particularly in places where data is a scarce resource.

As of now, Instant Apps are a Google property. However, that doesn’t mean competitors aren’t entering the market. We’ll talk about this soon in another post - but first, a primer on the different kinds of apps.

How many variations of apps are there?

It's a common misconception that there's only one single type of app. In fact, there are now three. The distinction may not be all that large, but it's still important to know how apps possibly differ, especially in the new context of instant apps.

Each type is made different thanks to the types of content they access, as well as how much they can offer. To break them down, the three types of app are:

  • Typical apps which you can find on the Play and App Stores (among many others).
  • Progressive Web Apps - or apps that appear to be apps, but rather host a web view inside an application.
  • Instant apps. The apps which we’re just about to deep dive into...

How do Instant Apps work?

Whenever a user taps a link, Google Play checks to see if there’s an app which could open the link (as with deep linking). With the new technology, the link would open an Instant App if you don’t already have the app installed. From there, a user could utilize the limited functionality to do exactly what they need at the time. Then, they can bounce, or continue to a full install.

To speak more technically, a small portion of the app is cached on the phone for future use, but the data downloaded is tiny when compared to an actual full experience. The Instant App can also be removed from the Settings app, under ‘Google > Instant Apps’. Significantly, Instant Apps are not on by default now during the beta test, but this could change in a future update.

Some shortcomings could include perhaps the difficulty of developing for the size. Instant Apps should be at 4MB or less, and though for some this would mean creating simple partitions, there may be unforeseen challenges for some app developers depending on their product. Beyond that, many of the features that users are used to (such as push notifications) won’t exist on Instant Apps.

Introducing Android Instant Apps - Google I/O 2016

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What makes Instant Apps better than a web page or an app?

To break it down, instant apps essentially are a mobile-friendly web page, using an app as the platform to serve them. Since web pages still somewhat lag behind app functionality (limited by HTML5 and Javascript), instant apps more suited to work on smartphones.

And, as mentioned, instant apps circumvent problems of limited phone memory, large app downloads, and unnecessary features for the current use case.

Instant App use cases

Let’s take a look at some specific use cases to get an idea of just how powerful Instant Apps could be.


Impulse purchases could take on a whole new meaning with Instant Apps. From product suggestions to revisiting histories, buying online via an easy to download app could reduce friction from shoppers who want to avoid the hassle of install, sign-up and wait for delivery. Combined with 24-hour (or sooner) shipping, buying on an app could be even faster than on desktop. And that doesn’t even take into account the potential changes to food delivery.


Travel as a vertical has perhaps the broadest but most accessible uses of Instant Apps. From young travellers on limited data plans booking their next hostel to businesspeople on their way to a meeting, late and looking for a quick taxi (linked through a maps application with route already uploaded, no less) there are multiple ways to imagine Instant Apps removing friction exacerbated by panic, or from a lack of access to overseas data plans.


The most talked about example of Instant Apps is Buzzfeed Video’s ‘Tasty’ - the food portion of Buzzfeed’s overall experience. With the app, you can perform simple tasks such as opening a recipe sent to you through an IM. From there, another Instant App could connect you to a shopping list in a local supermarket.

Simple shared experiences that take advantage of social media could change the game when it comes to app sharing, as well as the number of organic installs that are brought in from social campaigns. As such, attribution providers might have to be more hands-on.

How will this affect my app?

Google says that existing apps only need be updated so they work in a modular way. The app can be packaged as a single download, but also be partitioned into chunks. They believe an update could be created in a single day.

More technically:

  • Instant apps will work on devices with Jellybean OS (2013) and above.
  • The notes above only apply to apps built using native code in Android Studio.
  • Instant apps will also only work for apps published on the Play Store.

The challenge for attribution vendors

Increasingly, attribution providers will need to improve their offering to meet the demands of different types of apps. While it’s true that GPS ADID remains the same between Instant App and traditional apps, the difficulty from an attribution point of view is sessions, and how they could be calculated. Understanding the difference between an install, and the various types of sessions including the first session of an Instant App is the main challenge for attribution vendors to get right.

Whether Instant App installations derive from in-app ads or other sources would be up to new tech to decide - for the moment, installs only come from search.

Why does it all matter?

Instant Apps could have the potential to change the industry, the nature of apps, and user behavior in very profound ways.

Search could present an exciting landscape for app discovery, with different kinds of content per app split across different terms. Paid search might also become increasingly complicated and competitive, so in a way it’s fortunate that Instant Apps are being spearheaded by the de facto lead in search. Instant Apps might also provide a further interactive experience beyond deep linking and other means of engagement, meaning potentially more diverse re-engagement campaigns that are really effective.

Retention is another metric to think about, and one which Instant Apps could really change. When looking at any of Adjust’s past mobile benchmark reports, we know that churn on day one for most apps is slightly over 60 percent. Would that then mean that the majority of app users could be better served by Instant Apps instead of regular apps? And would this only affect a few verticals, such as those mainly focusing on e-commerce? While it awaits to be seen, in the case of e-commerce or transaction focused applications Instant Apps could be groundbreaking.

We’ll be talking much more about Instant Apps on the blog as soon as the release becomes more widely available. And rather than bore you with FAQ’s, Google themselves have created one for us (and you).

Adjust is the only attribution vendor to track instant apps

Just released, Adjust is currently the only provider on the market who can track instant apps. This means our tech now applies to a bigger piece of the market.

If you're currently testing your next instant app, get in contact with us to start a trial, or to discuss in detail with our sales or support teams about how to make the switch, and begin tracking your instant app.

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