Launched in April 2016, The New York Times Crossword Android app allows people to compete in the same puzzles as printed in the New York Times daily newspaper. The team's goal was to drive more users to their native app experience and more engagement than the mobile website. With Android Instant Apps, they hoped to lower the cost and make it easier to get their target audience into their native app experience, whilst also increasing re-engagement.
What they did
NYTimes created a simple, but highly effective user experience: once you click their URL, you are immediately able to play the daily mini crossword puzzle. If you then want to continue playing puzzles, you can play one of the other free puzzles, wait for tomorrow's daily puzzle, or subscribe using Play In-App Billing to access even more puzzles.
The team implemented instant apps by following the pattern illustrated in Google's Instant App code lab, extracting the app code into a module that can be shared by both an installed app and an instant app.
Android Instant Apps have a 4MB threshold on single feature modules within the framework. The app was close to the limit, so the team worked to further reduce the app size. They used the APK Analyzer to identify image and audio resources that could be converted to more efficient formats like WebP and Ogg, removed unused libraries, and used Proguard to remove unnecessary library code. NYTimes also used a separate "Instant build flavor" to customize the instant experience, adding a call to action to download the full app.
Since launching in May 2017, NYTimes Crossword is used more frequently and those using the instant app have more than doubled the number of sessions. The more time someone spends in the app, the more likely they are to subscribe and remain a user, so this is an important metric for the team.
Fred Dintenfass, Senior Games Marketing Manager at the New York Times, instrumental in implementing instant apps, said: "We're extremely excited about the potential of Instant Apps to reduce friction at the top of the funnel. This will change how we approach mobile acquisition, which is a key driver of growth. Based on early results, we expect far more efficient acquisition, conversion and improved long-term retention. Results so far have been spectacular, and we're looking forward to seeing more."
As of May 2017, Android Instant Apps is open to all developers. Get started with instant apps.