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If you’ve been following the tech industry news lately, you might have heard about this new, unlaunched feature that Google presented at I/O this year: Android Instant Apps. According to the limited information released, users will be able to run subsections of a full native app on their phone without having to visit the Play Store once it’s live. Simply put, you click a link and you’re running the native app on your phone. There’s no Play Store page. There’s no “Install” button. There’s no waiting. Just an instant native app experience on Android.
Android only? It would be naive to assume that Apple isn’t working on a similar technology. In iOS 9, Apple launched the preface to the iOS version of Instant Apps: app thinning, where only a fraction of the native app is downloaded before it’s ready for use. The remainder of the app is then downloaded as you use it.
I’ve spent the last few years dreaming of days when apps would be instantly accessible from the click of a deep link, taking users from mobile web straight to the correct content in the app. The Play and App Store are the last remaining blockades on the road to building successful, mobile-only businesses. There has never been a more exciting time to be in mobile.
However, before we all start betting the farm on Instant Apps and the Apple equivalent, let’s take a pragmatic look at the potential impact of this technology. Ultimately, the impact will only be as significant as the number of companies that adopt the technology, which will determine how much of an impact it will have on the mobile user experience. Based on our understanding of the landscape, at the current maturity level in the mobile ecosystem, it could be incredibly difficult for companies to incorporate Instant Apps into their product.
Enterprise organizations can’t support Instant Apps
Up until this point, the native app represented a siloed treat for a brand’s most loyal users. It’s a must-have checkbox for all significant consumer brands, and executives at these companies will proudly flaunt their native app, boasting of their trendiness. However, what I’ve found out after engaging with many of them, is that the team responsible for the native app is often fragmented from the rest of the company. This leads to a disconnected product strategy and overall lower quality experiences in mobile. The app is just not a priority for large enterprises.
Why, you might ask? The reason is that the ratio of users in the native app is still relatively low compared to the amount of foot traffic in the store or web traffic on the site. The users of these apps are mostly tech-savvy power users, which on paper seems relatively insignificant to other channels. Instant Apps promises that this balance of traffic will be dramatically changed, driving a majority of mobile users to the native app instead of the mobile web. It means their native experience is about to get a firehose of new users.
With this additional traffic comes the additional burden to ensure the native app is up to date with the rest of the site and bug free. To address this problem, the team responsible for the native app will need to be better integrated into the organization and likely better staffed. Large, traditional companies will first have to make the decision that it’s meaningful to their business to support the new technology; then they’ll need to spend a year or more reorganizing. Just think about how long it took most companies to build mobile-friendly websites.
Marketing services can’t support Instant Apps
Marketing teams of large enterprises have typically struggled to incorporate their native app into their day-to-day activities. When you’ve spent the last 15 years sending millions of emails a day promoting your website, it’s difficult to include an existing native app in these campaigns, let alone Instant Apps. Meanwhile, 66 percent of emails are opened from mobile devices.
The problem for these marketers is that in an app-based world, browser cookies are useless. Cookies are the foundation for user identities on the web, helping to ensure user experience consistency and supporting for robust reporting on user activities. Cookies don’t exist within apps, which has already significantly splintered the user identity. However, it hasn’t been a significant issue to date, as app users only represent a small portion of a business’s total user base. Additionally, mobile marketing services have popped up looking to address the needs of the marketer responsible for the native app.
But what happens when most mobile traffic suddenly disappears from cookie-based analytics systems? Or you can’t retarget audiences based on a tracking pixel? Or mobile clicks don’t register in your email service provider dashboard? If mobile, which represents a majority of digital traffic for these businesses, suddenly doesn’t show up in their tools, it’s catastrophic. While working with client companies, I’ve seen the decision to prioritize analytics and reporting over a better user experience made again and again. It’s a show stopper and will prevent companies from adopting Instant Apps.
Lack of web-native parity will block Instant Apps
As an organization scales, the primary reason that the pace of growth slows is the need for consistent communication on key strategies. You want to ensure that the messaging coming out of one group is consistent with the messaging of another. It adds significant overhead to maintain this consistency. This same consistency of messaging is needed across different product platforms. When a campaign is launched, you want to ensure that this campaign is evident everywhere consumers experience your brand.
Now imagine a futuristic world where you have to maintain a mobile website, an Instant App, and a full Android app. Campaign messaging would need to be designed to show in all formats and implemented in each. A marketing manager will need to pester the product managers for each platform to ensure consistency. It’ll be a logistical nightmare.
With the onset of Instant Apps, links that point to a business’s property must now assume parity across the website, Instant App, and native app. But I know from experience that links rarely work across both the web and the app. This introduces an entirely new platform that must support linking and provide functional parity. It will require substantial effort from the product team to ensure this parity across the three different potential user experiences on the Android platform alone, let alone iOS and Apple’s upcoming response.
Silicon Valley skepticism
All in all, the promise of the Instant Apps platform sounds like a spectacular innovation that can drive significant additional revenue and conversion for businesses. But there are substantial issues that could slow companies in adopting it.
Still, it’ll be exciting to see how it plays out. We’ll be watching from the sidelines for a while to see what sticks.
Alex Austin is founder and CEO of Branch Metrics.
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