At Google I/O 2017, Google announced that the Instant Apps SDK is open to all developers. Thumbtack worked with Google before the conference, creating an instant app for our Android customer app. In the process we provided feedback and bug reports to Google around the SDK and supporting tooling.
In Google’s own words:
Q. What is Android Instant Apps?
A. Android Instant Apps evolves Android apps to be able to run instantly, without requiring installation. With Instant Apps, URL clicks can open right in an Android app, even if the user doesn’t have that app installed.
Q. What are the benefits of Android Instant Apps?
A. Android apps are great – they use all the capabilities of your device, they’re beautiful, smooth and immersive, and they use identity and payments to create seamless experiences. But getting into a new app involves significant friction around app discovery and installation. This limits app usage. We’re trying to remove that friction to enable people to use far more apps, far more easily.
Thumbtack’s instant app encompasses virtually all of the features on the downloaded app. One particularly important feature is allowing customers to respond to messages from service professionals. The instant app enables users to have the smooth experience of an instant messenger built for Android instead of just a mobile web interface.
The following graph shows the messages sent on the Android app per day split by app type (instant vs installed). While usage of the app has been increasing rapidly in general, instant app usage has risen quickly and the number of messages sent via the instant app is now roughly equal to the number of messages sent from the installed app.
On the technical side, there were a few key areas of work:
- APK Size – Although we have always kept the app relatively lean, we significantly reduced the size of the APK from about 7 MB down to around 3.75MB. This was done through a mix of optimizing the size of included images by using vector graphics instead of raster, and removing third party dependencies where possible.
- Smart Lock – Integrating Smart Lock is a prerequisite for instant apps with user authentication but it’s also just a win for customers. Enabling a user to easily fill out a login screen without manually typing email greatly reduces friction. Once you’ve set and saved your password, logging in again after you’ve logged out or even if you’ve re-installed the app is as easy as a single press.
- Project Structure – An instant app project requires a specific project structure in order to share modules of your application and publish them to both an instant app and a downloadable APK for your installed app. It’s important to properly modularize and fit your application into the prescribed project structure.
If you’re interested in trying Thumbtack’s instant app, ensure your phone is supported (running Android 6.0 and higher) send yourself a link to https://www.thumbtack.com/explore and navigate to it on your device. Typing it in directly in Chrome doesn’t work, the easiest way is to email or text yourself the url and click it on your device.
If you’re excited about developing using cutting edge Android features like instant apps, we’re hiring!