What's Better: Instant Apps or a Website? Time to Decide

What's Better: Instant Apps or a Website? Time to Decide

Android's instant apps functionality is a major step forward. Are using instant apps better than using websites today? Time to decide.

Android instant apps, originally debuted by Google in 2016, have taken the mobile tech sector by storm. In just a few short years, instant apps have transformed the mobile marketing landscape. The technology to run agile and lightweight versions of apps on-demand without having to download and install them has revolutionized mobile app development, opening up avenues to serve users in new and exciting ways.
The ability to have instant apps launch from a web URL means that there's a real possibility that they may replace mobile websites sometime in the near future. But are instant apps all that they're cracked up to be? Is there any place for a traditional mobile site in this brave new world? Turns out it's not so cut and dry. Here's a close look at when an instant app might be a better choice than using a mobile site -- and when it might be the other way around.

The Advantages of Instant Apps

Let's be honest, here: instant apps have a lot to offer over mobile websites. Before the advent of Play Instant, the biggest push in mobile site development was to entice visitors to use native mobile apps instead of these mobile sites. Because of the limitations of mobile browsing in general, core functionalities that could be offered to site visitors was relatively low in comparison. Driving mobile app downloads was therefore seen as one of the primary uses of a mobile site.
Excellent examples of this push exist to this day in the e-commerce sector. Offering discounts and preferential pricing for site visitors that downloaded and used a company's native app to make purchases were and still are a common tactic, all in an effort to provide better user experience through full-featured mobile apps. Yet driving native app downloads and installations remained a challenge, as users almost universally crave speed and convenience in mobile browsing.
Setting up a mobile app doesn't take that long in the grand scheme of things. But if you're on the go and pressed for time, it can seem like an eternity. Many online shoppers don't have the time or the desire to transition to the Play Store, download an app, and then wait for it to install and login or register once that app is up and running just so they can continue shopping. This is, of course, why instant apps are so brilliant -- they make that wait a thing of the past. Now, a mobile site can send users to the instant version of their native app to browse inventory, read reviews, or make purchases, often seamlessly.

Yet Instant Apps Can't Do Everything

As much as instant apps can and do solve some very real problems, there are some they can't solve. Additionally, using instant apps actually create other problems unique to their platform because of its inherent limitations. This means that, in the long run, there are some instances where they are just not as appropriate as using existing options such as native apps -- or even mobile websites.
It's true that not having to stop to download native apps aids in consumer retention, as there's no risk shoppers become frustrated with the process and find what they're looking for elsewhere. But because instant apps are ephemeral -- they're automatically deleted after use -- there are fewer opportunities for follow-up with customers. Unlike with native apps that stay on a user's phone, you can't send push notifications through already-deleted instant apps to alert customers about new products or sales based on their prior purchases. This is a prime example of why websites are still relevant, as they have built-in notification functionality through mobile browsers.
Also, the very agile and lightweight nature of instant apps can often work against them when it comes to displaying high-quality multimedia. In order to put the "instant" in instant apps, there's a real need to keep data restrictions tight so that a user can tap a link and have the app launch without having to pause to download that app data. This means that multimedia resources such as high-resolution images, video, or audio are often impossible to include. Lower-quality media may be used instead, and while this cuts down on the data requirement, low-fidelity media certainly isn't as attractive. Meanwhile, there are no such limitations when it comes to a mobile website, though you do risk a user's patience the longer it takes to present high-quality media.

So What's the Final Verdict?

As it turns out there's no easy, cut-and-dry answer to the question of whether instant apps or websites are better. Each format has its own advantages and disadvantages, and while mobile technologies continue to develop, the effectiveness of Android instant apps furnished through Google's Instant Play feature are somewhat limited. The good news is that mobile sites can and will continue to flourish in this environment by providing the services that instant apps still cannot.
Yet if there's one thing for certain, mobile tech capabilities will continue to progress. Faster download speeds in the future from technologies like 5G and beyond will ease the data limitations on using instant apps, making them more capable of providing high-quality media on demand. New and innovative methods for marketing to mobile customers may make the lack of push notifications less of a problem as they are now. It may not be long before mobile websites may become obsolete as the next generation of instant app technologies supplant them. Only time will tell!

Benjamin Shepardson
Benjamin Shepardson is a frontend developer for myaccident.org a tech startup in Dallas, dedicated to helping all victims of Car Accidents find their Accident Report online.

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