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What is an Offline App and Why Are Offline Apps Important?

This article examples what an offline app is, why they are important and provides real-world examples of offline apps.Forrester Research released a report saying that mobile apps that can work offline is the "most important and difficult feature" of modern business apps.  So what can offline apps do for business and why are offline apps important?

What are offline apps?

Most modern business apps require a cell phone signal or Internet connection to get tasks done. Offline apps allow people to use a mobile without having to worry about the presence of a WiFi or cell signal.

Why are offline apps important?

In situations where people want to access information or capture information when they need to, offline apps make it possible to:

  • move content off the server before the user needs it so it's available on the phone when users needs to access data,
  • collect data and store massive amounts of data on the phone if the user is not connected
  • get important tasks completed and stored in the field without a connection
  • allow any collected data, record changes, etc. to be uploaded to the server when the user is back online.

Offline capability requires mobile app development to be done to pre-configure the app to work ahead of time to make information available when field workers need it.

What are the Benefits of Offline Applications?

There are important benefits of offline apps:

1) Dependability

Offline apps allow a the person in the field to keep on working on any mobile business app without having to worry about the presence of WiFi or cell signal. Users can access records, collect data and storage images or access manuals without cell service or a WiFi connection.

2) Lower Cost

Sometimes the field work does not have to constantly be connected to the back-end data on the server. They only need to occasionally be connected to load up and to refresh data. This is something  which can be done from home in the morning or from a coffee shop or public place with Wifi during the course of the day.  In this case, the field worker does not have to have a data plan on their mobile device. The implication of this is that companies could then save  $40 or $50 per field worker per month. If you do the arithmetic, for a field force of 100 or 1000 workers, the savings would be in $4000-$5000 to $40,000-$50,000 per month range!

3) Improved Performance

If all the data that is being worked on is available on the mobile device, you eliminate the latency of the data moving back and forth from the server across 3G/4G - which results in faster performance.

Are offline apps hard to build?

Offline apps are important, but is it hard to create an app that works even without a connection or signal? Not necessarily, with Alpha Anywhere's offline capabilities. Here's how two Alpha Anywhere customers have been making use of Alpha Anywhere's built-in features for offline mobile (and web) app development. Support for caching data offline as well as data synchronization when an offline app connects to a network make creating mobile offline applications easier with Alpha Anywhere.

Are There Examples of Successful Offline Apps?

Companies around the work are finding critical situation in which offline capabilities are needed. Here are some examples of how they're allowing users to do critical tasks on mobile apps, even without a cell signal or internet connection:

  • Bureau Veritas is a world leader in testing, inspection and certification services for a wide variety of industries and technologies, from boilers and pressure vessel inspection to health, safety, and environmental, marine services, and well beyond. It has a global workforce of more than 60,600 employees. Bureau Veritas's inspectors must always have access to critical business data when they're out in the field, even when there's no Internet access. The company has built a mobile app to do just that, for its team of elevator inspectors in the Netherlands, who have to capture on-site asset information even when no signal is available. Rohan Shenoy, ISM North West Europe, IS Lead Developer says of the project, "We are excited to implement Alpha Anywhere's offline capabilities, which will provide many benefits across our business...Our mobile app built using Alpha Anywhere and PhoneGap  enables inspectors to record data in real-time for later synchronization with our primary systems, allowing us to improve efficiency and provide the best possible service to our customers."
  • Dwellpoint is a SaaS business that keeps real estate agents and brokers in touch and up to date with their clients by informing them about the status of their house listing, scheduled open houses, and upcoming appointments. Scott Moore built the service using Alpha Anywhere and Alpha’s SaaS Jumpstart Framework. The first generation of the service has been a hit, and he's constantly adding new capabilities to it. Offline access will be next because "It’s not uncommon for agents to be in areas where a mobile connection is unavailable or weak. With the offline capabilities built into Alpha Anywhere, agents will still be able to be productive.”
  • Many other companies have been using Alpha Anywhere for including offline operation in their mobile apps. Here's how Avis is building powerful offline apps.

Alpha Software has produced two white papers to help people better understand offline apps, why they're useful to business and how to build them successfully. First, an overview of offline app problems and why offline capability can be such a complex app feature to build.  Second, a white paper that explains how Alpha Anywhere allows you to build offline apps easily with its built-in capabilities for robust offline operation. 

More resources for learning about offline apps:

Videos, Slide-decks, and Handouts from the 2014 Alpha Worldwide Developer Conference
TechTarget Names Alpha Anywhere "Product of the Month"; Highlights Offline Features for Mobile Apps

About Author

Dion McCormick
Dion McCormick

Dion McCormick, Lead Solutions Engineer at Alpha Software, is a recognized expert on agile application development. He helps enterprise development teams around the world transition from slow legacy approaches to high-performance mobile, web, and desktop development using the Alpha Anywhere platform.

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