Rob Tiffany

Mobile Apps Must Work Offline Because Wireless Connectivity isn’t Ubiquitous

Albuquerque

Intermittent wireless connectivity requires mobile apps to follow sync patterns using pre-fetched data via APIs and offline local storage.

If the network isn’t available, it’s pretty hard for your native app to call web APIs or for your web app to load new web pages. On the Ethernet connected desktops of the past, developers didn’t concern themselves with this issue. In our wireless connected mobile society, ignoring this issue leads to a poor user experience. Most of the time, devices are connected via 2G/3G/4G wireless data networks whose reliability is driven by cell tower density, the number of devices connected to a given tower, wireless frequencies, bandwidth and the number of buildings in the area.

Rather than assuming everything will “just work,” developers of successful apps assume “nothing works.” For starters, mobile apps must take advantage of platform APIs that detect the existence of network connectivity. Once this is established, an app must not only download the data it needs at that given moment but enough data to get through the day. Depending on the amount and complexity of this data, it should be stored locally on the device in a mobile database or as serialized files. From then on, the app should only use the local data to perform its tasks rather than reaching out to servers. Changes made by the user to this local data should be tracked so that only deltas are sent to backend systems when it’s time to upload. Extensive error handling and “sync retries” are needed to ensure reliability. Employees can work in airplane mode or when roaming internationally without using data.

Increase revenue and improve user productivity by using sync to create apps that keep working whether the Internet is available or not. App downtime on a sales call in front of a customer is not an option. Has your company made the move to apps that work offline?

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