Android Instant Apps vs. Progressive Web Apps

Two days ago, Google announced so called Android Instant Apps at the Google I/O 2016. Android Instant Apps are Android apps which could replace mobile websites. They open by clicking a URL and do not need to be installed. But Android Instant Apps are not the first idea of Google to provide a smooth transition between apps and the web. Some of you might have heard about Progressive Web Apps which were announced back in 2014 on the Chrome Dev Summit. The idea behind Progressive Web Apps is similar to Android Instant Apps. You open a link, and you will get the look and feel of a native app.

In this post we’ll take a quick look at both technologies and clarify where they distinguish.

About Android Instant Apps

Let’s say you are thinking about buying a new computer. A friend sends you a link to an online shop with a good offer. This online shop provides an Android Instant App. You click the link your friend sent to you and instead of the browser the app of the online shop shows up. You did not install anything; the app gets loaded on the fly. You are lucky, the offer is awesome and you want to buy this computer. If you were inside your browser, you would need to login to the payment method of your choice, but since you are using an Android app you have access to all linked accounts on your device.

The principle behind Android Instant Apps is that you are only downloading the code needed for a specific task on the fly. So basically you are just downloading a tiny piece of the app instead of the whole app. The downloaded code gets executed without being installed on your device [1]. This is very nice for apps you are not using very often.

About Progressive Web Apps

Progressive Web Apps (PWApp) are following a different direction. Progressive Web Apps are “[…] just websites that took all the right vitamins.” [2]. They use standard HTML5 components to provide a website that has the UX of a native app. Using HTML5 service workers, the basic functionality of the app is cached offline in the local storage. If you are using a mobile phone and you visit a PWApp twice, the browser prompts whether the PWApp should the added to your home screen. If you add a PWApp to your homescreen, the app gets cached and you’ll have a direct link from your homescreen to the app. By defining a web app manifest, the developer can set the browser to open in fullscreen mode without an address bar, a splash screen, a color theme for the status bar and the icon itself.

Conclusion

Both technologies are from Google, both can be quite handy in the future. The smooth transition of the web and native apps is a hot topic and might be get even hotter with the development of these technologies. Alex Russel – one of the main developers of PWApps – sees the capability to share a link to some content as a highly desirable feature [2]. Since both technologies are still in their infancy, it will be exciting to see how they will work out in later stages of development.

The main advantage PWApps have over Android Instant Apps is that they are more or less platform independent. PWApps use standard HTML5 components, so theoretically they could be used in all browsers. Theoretically…

Service Workers Browser Support

Service Workers Browser Support [3]

Currently only Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Android Browser and Chrome for Android are supporting service workers. So PWApps won’t work in IE for example.

Regarding the device support of Android Instant Apps, Google stated that they will run on any Android device having Android version 4.1 or higher installed.

A thing to consider with PWApps is that they need HTTPS, since service workers are restricted to it. One of the major advantages of Android Instant Apps is that they have access to the complete Android API, so the apps can use any feature which locally installed apps can use. I’m just wondering how Google will keep track of the permissions of an Android Instant App.

Android Instant Apps were just announced two days ago, so I cannot dive deeper into the comparison yet, but I’m curious about what Google will do in the future with both of these technologies. I am still more excited about Android Progressive Web Apps since they (hopefully) will work on all devices in the future. But maybe other manufacturers will take the idea of Android Instant Apps and include it in their own devices.

Sources

[1] Google I/O 2016: Introducing Android Instant Apps
[2] Progressive Apps: Escaping tabs without losing our soul
[3] Browser Support of Service Workers

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