Zip! Pow! Google debuts Android Instant Apps that load without installation

Imagine tapping your phone and instantly downloading an app, and being logged in to pay, too.

App installations are so five minutes ago. On Wednesday, Google showed off Android Instant Apps—apps that run without even being installed.

What Google showed off as Instant Apps, however, is officially a “sneak peek,” and will be rolled out over the next year, Ellie Powers, group product manager on the Android team, told developers at the Google I/O conference. It won’t even require Android N—it will work all the way back to older Jelly Bean phones, and the onstage demo was performed with a phone running KitKat.

“We want to make it easier for users and developers to connect,” Powers said. “For users to access a wider range of apps, and for developers to reach more people. With the web, you can just click on a link and land on a Web page. That’s one click, and land in a few seconds. What if you could run any app on one tap? That’s what we’re working on.”

If someone sends you a link to an app—Powers used Tasty—clicking the link will take you right into the app itself—without installing it. Google Play will only fetch the piece of the app that Android needs, right now. The app was able to open so fast because it was split into modules, she said, and Google downloaded only what was necessary. Users can also formally install the app itself, later.

Powers also showed off how the technology could be used with shopping. She looked for a camera bag on a page of search results, and the resulting link actually loaded a simple app authored by B&H. The app is even already signed in to Google Wallet, so that the user doesn’t even have to enter a credit card or address.

android instant apps parking app

Imagine tapping a parking meter and downloading the appropriate app—and being ready to pay, too.

“It’s going to take me two taps, not two minutes,” Powers said.

Powers even showed off a parking app where she could simply tap the phone against a parking meter and the NFC tag could load the appropriate parking app. “All I have to do is choose how long to park,” she said. “I’m already done.”

Developers simply need to modularize their apps to get them to work, Powers said. It could take less than a day of work. What Powers didn’t talk about, however, was what kind of security protections will be built in, or how consumers will be able to avoid loading apps that are pushed upon them by spammers or other bad actors.

“When you do make the update, the app will be just one tap away for a billion people,” Powers said.

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