It's been a year since we first heard about Instant Apps, a neat-sounding feature that launches a slice of an app you don't have, instead of making you download the entire thing from the Play Store. Consider it App Light. Diet App.
Now, Google is making Instant Apps a much bigger part of the Android OS -- and it's opening up the platform to all developers.
That means pretty soon there will be a flood of mini apps that you can interact with, without ever downloading or installing a single one.
You will save time, you will save space on your device and you will save the headache of having to wrangle a mobile site. You get the visually rich, mobile-optimized package instead.
When you click a search result or a link, Android O will fire up a nice, rich app-like environment that makes it easy to read and share an article, or buy that thing on that site.
Best yet, Instant Apps will integrate directly into your launcher, so you can search for an app, and find it right there (it's part of the Google Play Store search results). The New York Times crossword puzzle is a perfect example of an Instant App.
If you want to keep an Instant App around, just save the icon to your home screen. It'll also surface in your Recent apps.
Instant Apps will work with older versions of Android, but Google says it gets better in O. File sizes will be smaller, which will make Instant Apps load faster than they've done up to this point in beta with the 40 or so developers that have had access so far.
There are limitations, though, for sure. Like any full-blown app, an Instant App can do everything the developer programs, and no more. But like in-app purchases, the developer can also prompt you to download the complete app, if you aren't moved to download it yourself.
The beauty of Instant Apps is, you might not ever want to.
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