Getting started with an offline-first approach to mobile app development- Part 1

31 December 2021
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Today all almost all of us use Wi-Fi connections at our homes, offices, cabs, buses, and almost all the time. And moving out of Wi-Fi-enabled places, we usually connect to the mobile network. But network these days is quite flaky, and even a short period of no connectivity can ruin your mobile apps working.

According to statistics, more than $1.7 billion is lost annually due to low internet speeds, moreover, if the app or the website doesn’t load well, almost 75 percent of potential users would abandon it.

Therefore, the developers should consider moving above and beyond the traditional online first approach, which in this case is the offline-first approach. So, if you don’t want to lose your potential clients, you must start considering expanding your horizons and start developing offline-first approach apps.  

What are Offline-first Apps?

As we can easily interpret from the name, Offline-first mobile apps are named so because of their ability to even operate offline without an internet connection. But why are these apps needed, even in the 21st century when the internet is almost everywhere? The answer is that internet problems do exist, even in developed countries such as the USA.

 Here are the stats showing the best & the worst places for internet connectivity:

Source: Chart: The Best & Worst Places for Internet Quality | Statista

In the offline-first, the mobile apps are built to function without a working internet connection by providing the users an opportunity to sync data and get updates in addition to other functionalities while operating offline. Offline-first platforms also provide advantages such as better loading times, power saving, and reduced roaming costs.

The need of Offline—First Mobile Apps

The online-first approach is the traditional mobile app development platform approach in which we download the data from a remote server, display a loading indicator, and present data in a user-appealing method. After the data is displayed, the user can see or even modify the data and the changes are again sent and saved to the remote server. This is how we are building our +apps, and while reading this traditional methodology you must have realized that there are a lot of things wrong here.

To begin, here is a simple flowchart depicting the difference between the traditional and offline-first mobile app development methods:

Source: Offline First Mobile Apps Pt 1: The Blueprint | by Jeremy Rempel | Medium

In this approach, the user is obliged to wait every time the data is fetched from the data server. The network bandwidth is also wasted while constantly downloading and uploading data that hasn’t been changed and the chances of network connectivity stall are also more in this method.

Imagine when your user is working on the app and something goes wrong with the communication over the network? One of the solutions would be displaying an error message when the download has failed. This is one of the popular solutions, but is it right?

While writing a blog post, e-mail, or a well-structured comment, the worst thing that can happen to you is the uploading error or eventually losing the entire content. Will you just display a simple single-line error message? Nothing can be more irritating than this. Your user must not worry about re-downloading or re-uploading data that is our job. And to job our job properly, we must start thinking about ensuring user experience in mobile applications.

Benefits of Offline-First Mobile App

By now you must have got some idea of what offline-first mobile apps are. The basic idea behind this platform structure is improved user experience and this is just the beginning.

Source: Offline Web Apps — IndexedDB & Caching | by Gadi Keren | Medium

Talking about consumer apps, the benefits of offline apps are clear- better experience, and performance while operating through interruptions and outages. For businesses, business owners invest in apps to increase adoption and boost worker productivity. But that is not possible if an app doesn’t work properly due to poor connectivity.

Let’s have a look at what are the benefits of offline-first apps:

1. Run Faster- An app that works on the server-based data must take a round trip to the server whenever a request is made. An app that has near-zero latency and calls data when necessary is better and much faster.

2. Conserve battery life- The less CPU, screen time, and less bandwidth by the app results in better battery usage. Battery usage is another factor that impacts app adoption and user retention and that is an important factor for both the consumers and the front-line w0rkers.

3. Good user experience- When your app offers a better user experience, it gets better and positive reviews creating a better feedback loop for better app usage. According to a study by Apptentive, users are twice more likely to download an app that has five stars versus three stars.

Final Words

So, we have understood that the basics of the offline-first approach are a better user experience and to increase customer retention for our apps, we must have to shift to the offline-first approach for our mobile apps. This was just the beginning with the introduction, need, and benefits of the offline-first mobile app. In the next blog, we would be discussing the architecture and the process of shifting from an online-first mobile app to an offline-first mobile app development approach.

Are you ready to start? Develop your mobile app now with Debut Infotech.

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Debut Infotech A Top-Rated Web, Mobile, & Blockchain App Development Company

Debut Infotech is a global mobile app and digital product development company that leverages Blockchain, IoT, AI, and other cutting-edge technologies to help SMEs, startups, and global enterprises harness the incredible power of modern digital products to drive their online businesses to unwavering new heights. 

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