Many rapid app development vendors tout "offline capability" or "offline apps," but buyer beware. For modern business apps, "offline capability" is not always offline.
Merely being able to pull up records while you’re offline, is not nearly enough. An offline capable app must have the intelligence – before you go offline -- to cache associated data files that relate to those records. For example, if a record references an image filename, a pdf filename, a video filename, etc., before you go offline, these ‘linked’ files must also be downloaded and stored on the device.
An app must also deal with data conflicts in an intelligent way once you reestablish a connection. Aside from that, you will need a mobile app that can also access the mobile device hardware so you can use the phone, scanner, GPS and data storage.
Here’s why these capabilities are so critical…Imagine you’re a field repairman/woman starting a day of service calls in the Westchester, NY area. You logon into your field service app first thing in the morning, download your local customer visits for the day, log off and drive out of the parking lot. You’re now offline and your “offline capable” app will do everything you need, right? Maybe not.
At your fourth customer visit of the day, the customer argues that the company paid for the “Gold level” service. They don’t want to sign off on the repair form because it indicates they’ll be billed for the part and the “Gold level” agreement includes all parts, free-of-charge. You pull up the customer record you downloaded in the app this morning, and you see that there if a field in the customer record that links to the pdf file that has the customer’s contract. But when you click on a button to show the contract, you are out of luck because the app is trying to retrieve the contract from a server and you are now offline. On the other hand, had this file been downloaded before you went offline, your app would just work as you had expected. Alpha Anywhere has advanced features to automatically download all linked files before you go offline.
At the second customer visit of the day, you encountered a repair that has not been seen or documented before. Corporate needs to know about this and it your field app should trigger some workflow activity. You start to take some video of the damage you’re seeing, but your “offline capable” app can only store 5MG of video, which doesn’t begin to capture the damage you’re seeing. You’re dead in the water.
At the second customer visit of the day, you encounter a machine that needs to be repaired. You don’t have experience with this type of machine, but you know that there are videos, and instruction manuals (in PDF form) on servers at the home office that document how the repair should be performed. Too bad you don’t have a connection! You can’t access these files. But with Alpha Anywhere these files could have been downloaded automatically before you went offline and would not be available to you.
The Alpha Anywhere application development and deployment environment has transformed business application development so that developers can create robust offline capable apps and offline forms with virtually no incremental effort or cost. A robust solution is one that integrates fully with transactional back-end systems of records, that can sync offline data with intelligent conflict resolution (versus simplistic "last-write wins"), and can handle any number of rich media files (images, audios, videos), limited in size only by the available storage on a device. Alpha Anywhere’s unparalleled robust offline features include:
- Fine-grained control of write conflicts that occur in offline mode
- Rich media storage that utilizes the file system on the mobile device, allowing users to store large video, audio and image files
- Data persistence when the app is closed or the battery dies, including data not saved to the server.
For a case study about how one company is benefit from Alpha Anywhere’s robust offline capability to save costs, read: How One Company Will Save $300,000/Year in Mobile Data Costs with Alpha Anywhere
And for further reading, here are two whitepapers that describe some of the technical issues surrounding of the offline problem and how Alpha Anywhere solves them: