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Going Off the Grid - Is Offline App Development The best Option?

14 December 2017

Its universally acknowledged that a good connection is a must-have for everybody owning a smartphone. You cannot be sure of the availability of good network connection always. For mobile developers, it’s something that’s pretty convenient to ignore.

“With endless dollars spent on infrastructure development and updating technology with each passing day, it just takes nothing more than a short drive to bring about the reality check of the present technically connected era.

Offline application state can be confusing at times to handle, but the major obstacle is with the basic and the so-called assumption that Offline is by default, an error state. It does not make any sense when the doors of an elevator close via an app, that’s completely useless or expecting that the application we make will be used in the places that do not have a reliable cellular infrastructure.

How Do We Go Off the Grid?

Having a clear picture of what you want to offer to your users saves a lot of development time. So, from a developer’s end, you have to finalise which way to go. While planning your offline strategy, ASK YOURSELF:

1. What features should be available?
Do your customers or users just need to browse offline? Or will you give them an option to push local changes back to your server? Is there a need for multimedia viewing in the offline mode, like videos, clippets, GIFs etc.

‚Äč2. What data will be stored locally?
Ideally, only a subset of the database should be stored offline in the device. Local databases are usually lightweight. Also, the storage capacity of a device is limited and, handheld devices have a very limited computing power and limited battery life too. Hence, it turns crucial for developers to make up their mind before storing any data locally.

3. What will trigger synchronization?
Think about any critical information that you want to deliver to remote database as soon it gets a network connection.  Is there any data that will be synchronized when the user requires it? Also, do the users have a choice to synchronize the data later? Will the synchronization be triggered by some special events, like when the user logs in or when the network is restored?

4. When do you need a Server Connection?

Before you opt for a server connection, it turns all the more crucial to analyze what are your functional requirements. Once the requirement list is clear, you can move on to strategizing the development of your offline app.

A. Fully Offline-Operational

A perfect solution for the important data that doesn't require regular updates, like a catalog that is updated weekly or monthly.

If your app is of the type, that doesn’t require regular updates-For example, A Catalogue, that is updated weekly or monthly- it is beneficial to opt for an offline operation-based app. This mostly involves a recurring process for receiving and sending information so the developers must be aware of the data in motion and also maintain an ability to roll it all back if there is a connectivity issue.

Usually, applications that are made with reference to any specific model will not be able to connect to the server till a specific action is taken. All the transactions in the app will be done only via the local database, this way providing the additional benefit of yielding a better performing app, better than the one which waits for the server to respond.

B. Online with Offline Support

Here we assume that the user is always connected to internet. Offline for a minute and the application revert back to the local database and when the connectivity is restored the application syncs the whole offline records to the server. In this case, the basic recommendation in order to load the data is to block the User Interface and use only a loading indicator when the data is highly importance. All the other major functions should be loaded in the background so that they don’t block the UI for the end-user.’

The current trend is that the app users realise at the end that offline transactions are really fast ( as there is no waiting as compared to milli-seconds that are required to process every HTTP request), thereby prompting the users to use the app in the airplane mode and at the end causing visible issues with the strategy.

C. Online Only

Going online is the sure-shot approach when your end-customer app cannot be used offline, either because of the sensitivity of the information or just because of the the rate of the updates required. This will lead to a negative impact on the user experience or the reliability of the data. Hence, it is recommended to nullify the situation by handling the low (or no) connectivity with grace.

Be open to your users-Give a room to ample feedback.  Keep them in the loop, let them know what is actually going on or why are they not able to access the data.

Enabling a offline support to a mobile application is a very big obstacle to cross while developing an app. Thankfully, a large chunk of information is help you pull out the best app solution. Endless number of developers have already gone through this issue, so don’t have to reinvent the solution wheel. But keep in mind to factor in some extra time for developing and then testing these various scenarios.

It’s all about choosing the right solution keep your company’s niche-its needs and most importantly: the type of Customer  you plan to cater.

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Lakhwinder Singh Lead Developer - Mobility

Lead Mobile App Developer, covers wide range of technologies applied to the development of websites and business applications too. Enjoys doing creative things in Mobile and is passionate about developing unique Mobile Products.

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