Android without Google and Google Mobile Services (GMS) is an alien concept to the average consumer, one that fundamentally alters the experience they have come to expect out of their Android smartphone. And because of certain political decisions, Huawei faces the unenviable task of convincing the world outside of China that it can provide a software experience on Android that can compete against the experience they have come to expect out of Google’s Android. The Chinese company did have some foresight, as it had begun work on several avenues much before the political decisions, and these avenues then had to step up and fill in as replacements to crucial Google services and frameworks. In this article, we take a look at Quick Apps from Huawei, one such avenue that serves as an alternative to Instant Apps from Google.
Google Instant Apps
Google introduced Instant Apps back at Google I/O 2016, imagining it as the next evolutionary step in the way Android apps are experienced. Traditionally, a user would need to download and install an entire app, even if their intention was to merely check out the app or achieve a very specific one-time task; and then also remember to uninstall the app if they wanted to keep their phone clean. With Instant Apps, users could “stream” apps to try out certain limited functionality without involving any of the friction associated with installation. This approach promised to increase the reach for app developers, as they could essentially project a native Android app experience to the user through a URL instead of merely presenting a website. Over the years, Instant Apps saw several key improvements — the Google Play Store gained support for Instant Apps, with a prominent “Try Now” button appearing next to “Install” on several popular apps, developers were allowed to publish Instant Apps without a website, and even games joined in the Instant Apps party with playable demos, something that definitely helps in engagement if the game is paid or available to pre-register only.
While Instant Apps haven’t yet completely eliminated our need for traditional apps — and by design, they cannot do so, as they are a precursor to the full experience of a traditional app or game, and not a full replacement — they do serve important functions for both users and developers. But for users and developers who are looking at Huawei for its hardware, the lack of Instant Apps will add to the overall pinch in the Google-less software experience. If an app relies on GMS for its core functionality, this functionality will also be undeliverable through Instant Apps. The absence of the Play Store also reduces the channels available for users to land on and try out Instant Apps, as the Play Store was one of the popular mediums to promote Instant Apps.
Huawei Quick Apps
In an ideal world, the political situation that forces Huawei to discontinue the use of Google services would not exist. But we do not live in an ideal world, so the next best solution for Huawei is to ensure that its stakeholders are impacted in minimal ways. For the same, the Huawei AppGallery was presented as the homegrown alternative to the Google Play Store for app distribution. HMS Core attempted to fill in the space left behind in GMS’s absence; while Huawei Ability Gallery presented itself as the comprehensive service distribution platform. Huawei Quick Apps aims to fill in the gap from Google’s Instant Apps framework, providing users with an installation-free app experience on Huawei’s smartphones.
Much like Instant Apps, Quick Apps aims to reduce the friction that users feel when they have to install an app, relying on the reluctance faced by an average user for installing a large app when they have just some limited use to look forward to. Since users are hesitant in installing new apps, developers have to explore alternate mechanisms to get their app’s experience to the user as promoting a new app becomes a difficult job under these circumstances.
While Google’s Instant Apps could be accessed through a deeplink URL and through the Google Play Store, Huawei Quick Apps can be accessed through the Huawei AppGallery, through Search, Instant Access, Smart Care (Huawei Assistant on the homescreen), through the Huawei Quick App Center app, and through deeplink URLs. The Quick App Center app can run and manage quick apps, ensuring that you run on the latest version of the app available. It also allows users to delete data, withdraw authorizations, and disable notifications for a quick app.
As far as their basic premise goes, Quick Apps can open instantly, and be used without needing to be installed. Huawei also claims that they can update automatically, and take up limited storage space. Once closed, they can also be rediscovered easily through their home screen icon, or be found through Recently Used apps, or through Push notifications.
Huawei also claims that Quick Apps perform as well as traditional Android apps. In its tests, a Quick App performed very similarly to an equivalent Android app, while requiring only a very small fraction of storage space. This low storage requirement will come in very handy on budget smartphones, as users can confidently get lower storage devices, store their media, and still retain the ability to access native Android experiences for a lot of apps.
Huawei also claims that Quick Apps adoption is on a meteoric rise. So far, Quick Apps are supported on over 250 million Huawei phones, with an MAU of more than 30 million. Quick Apps access has also increased by 100% each quarter, and the average time per user exceeds 14 minutes per day.
In a second example, Huawei claims that Quick Apps provide better returns in promotional activities. When both Quick Apps and the traditional Android app are promoted through different means, the Android app only saw 10% of the users reached installing the app, while the Quick App saw 72% of users reached experiencing the Quick App, indicating a very substantial effect. User retention remained the same though, which still attests to the benefits of the Quick App approach. Since more users experienced the Quick App, the promotion cost per user retained came down drastically, making it a much more efficient method for promoting and advertising the app experience.
The performance-related benefits of Quick Apps extend to Quick Games too, which are essentially games in the Quick Apps format. Huawei claims that Quick Apps can be either through H5 or can be “native runtime games” as well. Native runtime games through Quick Apps promise device-level graphics acceleration, ensuring that the game runs smoothly and at high quality. The games also retain the ability to access device capabilities, including location, sensors, Bluetooth, and others.
Benefits from Quick Apps also extend to the time actually involved in building a Quick App or Quick Game. If you already have an existing H5 app or game, you can have a Quick App or Game up and running within an hour. The timeframe expands by two more days if you wish to incorporate Huawei’s account or payment services. Huawei claims that new Quick Apps can be developed and released in as early as under a week.
Quick Apps have a lot of benefits, but there are some limitations to them that you as a developer should keep in mind.
If your app/game is very large in size, there is a loss in performance that becomes apparent because of the larger reduction in the volume of the package. Further, Quick Apps does not support the entire gamut of Android APIs; so if your app relies on some rarely used APIs, you will be unable to migrate completely in a clean fashion. Similarly, Huawei mentions that apps that require special permissions, such as theme APKs for example, are not supported through the Quick App format.
Quick Apps also need to run on the “Quick Application Center” platform, which will be preloaded on devices through their Android 10 updates. Devices not on Android 9 need to download and install the platform once to be able to run Quick Apps.
Quick Apps are useful, but their usefulness is only as wide as their availability to end users on their devices. All Huawei smartphone launched after the Huawei Mate 30 directly support Quick Apps, while other selected Huawei and Honor devices will support it when they receive their Android 10 update. Huawei has shared a list of devices that support Quick Apps after their Android 10 update:
Further, more Huawei phones can support Quick Apps once their AppGallery is updated to v10.1 or later.
At several of its Developer Day conferences, Huawei has shared information on the project structure of a Quick App.
Huawei provides an IDE (for Windows and MacOS) for developing Quick Apps and Games, along with documentation on learning more about developing Quick Apps. There are demo apps included too within the IDE, so you can take a look for yourself. Once you have developed your Quick App and are ready for release, you need to sign into the Huawei Developer website and submit your Quick App, after configuring the countries and regions you want your Quick App to reach. Huawei will review the submission and then release the Quick App in the target countries and regions. If you plan to make use of Huawei’s ID, payment or push services, you would need to apply for these services before you can complete app development, debugging, submission, and review.
To know more, visit Huawei’s Quick App resources.
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