One of the most interesting announcements to come out of Google’s I/O 2016 developer conference for ebook fans is the unveiling of Android Instant Apps. These are a sort of crossover between browser plugins and full downloadable apps, designed to serve you up the best of the latter – but more quickly and conveniently, without any downloads at all.
According to the introduction in the Android Developers Blog, the Android Instant Apps project “evolves Android apps to be able to run instantly, without requiring installation. With Instant Apps, a tap on a URL can open right in an Android app, even if the user doesn’t have that app installed.”
Google is initially working with “a small set of partners to help refine the experience, including developers like BuzzFeed, B&H Photo, Medium, Hotel Tonight, Zumper and Disney. We’ll be gradually expanding access for developers and bringing Instant Apps to users later this year.” (See the B&N implementation above.)
However, once Instant Apps do go further, they could help with such ambitious projects as the merger between the IDPF EPUB standard and the World Wide Web Consortium, bringing forward the oft-mooted merger between e-books and the open web covered by Chris Meadows and many others. Imagine going to a site like Archive.org and reading its ebook collection in an Instant App, instead of downloading to your device or messing around with awkward e-reading experiences in your mobile browser. Or reading your Amazon Kindle ebooks in an Instant App version of Kindle Cloud Reader, where your entire library is held in the cloud instead of downloaded to your device, but readable with the same functions and comfort level as the current Amazon Kindle Android app. Promising, no?
There’s one other attractive feature of the whole project: The prospect of bringing antiquated legacy devices up to speed with the latest apps, without burdening their often limited memory. “Your app will be available to more than a billion users on Android devices going back to Jelly Bean,” notes the blog post. My own gymnastics with older smartphones often revolved around trying to free up enough memory space for data hogs like the Amazon Kindle app. Android Instant Apps could possibly allow the latest iteration of e-reading and other apps to be run on legacy or budget devices with 512 MB of internal memory or less. May it be so.