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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 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.

 

What are the Benefits of Offline Applications?

With mobile becoming core to digital transformation, there are 4 core benefits of building strong offline support into your mobile business apps:

1. The ability of the user of the app to be able to do the work assigned to them.
This is obviously the fundamental reason for offline support in a mobile business app. When a mobile worker (field service, healthcare, construction, manufacturing, energy, mining, hospitality etc.) is assigned a job that requires that they use their mobile device to get the job done, they must be able to accomplish their tasks without being dependent on a reliable and solid connection. Issues with no signal/poor signal/inconsistent signal are real and occur all the time. In fact, even in cities/towns/suburbs there are areas where signal is non-existent or spotty.

2. Responsiveness and Performance
Because there is not need to continually connect to a remote server, offline mobile apps are able to deliver greater speed and performance

3. Cost Savings
There is no need to have a wireless/data plan. At $40-$80 per month per mobile worker, these savings can add up quickly.

4. Saves your battery
Offline mobile apps is that it saves the battery of your mobile phone which usually gets more used when you are traveling and then your phone gets switch off when you are about to reach your destination. This condition you can avoid using offline mobile apps.

 

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

Analysts report that offline capabilities are typically the most time consuming and expensive part of modern mobile app development. They typically require that the app building has extensive understanding of mobile technologies and frequently require native development.  However, in 2013 one vendor, Alpha Software, changed the game by building sophisticated offline capabilities into its low code development platform, so developers could produce offline apps with outstanding reliability and user experience very quickly without needing extensive mobile coding experience. 

The Top-Ranked Offline Apps Solution

Alpha Anywhere Logo-1

Alpha Software understands all these challenges and as a result, has assembled the most comprehensive portfolio of patented offline capabilities designed to make building mobile apps that address the offline challenge as easy and hassle-free as possible. Alpha Software handles all the above business requirements in the most complete, powerful and patented set of development tools for building robust offline-capable apps.and 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.

 

Why Do Built-In Capabilities Make Development of Offline Apps Easier?

Alpha Software has built the industry's most comprehensive offline app solution to ensure these benefits and capabilities are a reality in apps developed with Alpha Anywhere. As a result, developers can build critical offline app functionality into business apps without having to do extensive coding:

Full Functionality Without Signal While Offline
1) Dependability - Functionality When You Need It, With or Without a Connection

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. when a signal drops, an application performs as if nothing happened.

 

3) Smart Signal Detection - Lower Costs Across the Remote Workforce

Offline apps smart signal detection

Internet connections can vary, and a connection isn't always fast or cost-effective. 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. And if an offline app is smart enough to sense if the worker has a cell signal versus WIFI and behave accordingly, it could have smart, cost-effective rules on when to use a cell signal (to get critical data to the field worker) and when to hold off (when customer service report images are uploaded). The implication of smart offline apps 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!

Access to Data While Offline

 

3) Improved Performance - Access To What You Need, When You Need It

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. Plus, the worker has all the data, customer  records or manuals s/he needs in the field - right at the moment they need it.

 

Offline data conflicts4) Intelligent Conflict Resolution

What happens if two workers change the same data at the same time? This can happen often when a crew (or multiple crews) are assigned to the same project. With Intelligent Conflict Resolution, you have some flexibility in how to handle these situations. You can decide, based on who submitted data (first or last) you can decided based on the rank of the user (line worker vs. foreman), or the system can alert the user to the conflict and ask how to resolve it.

 

BYOD5) BOYB - Respect for Workers' Personal Preference

In many cases workers bring their own phones to work and use them on the job, also known as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). For reasons of security and privacy, a worker's personal data and work data need to be kept strictly separate. For example, if a worker needs to take a phone to fill out a report, their work photos should be kept separate from the phone's camera roll, where the worker may have personal pictures.  And because phones have limited storage capacity - files should automatically be deleted from the device as soon as they are safely uploaded to the server when a connection becomes available.

 

How Can I Start Building Offline Apps?

Alpha Software recently released a free version of its award-winning offline app development software, Alpha Anywhere. Alpha Anywhere Community Edition gives you a free license to build an unlimited number of offline apps with the patented software capabilities above. 

AACommunityEdLogo

Build offline apps for free using Alpha Anywhere Community Edition.

Need more info about  your specific needs?  Contact us for documentation or to speak with a solutions architect.


 

Where Can I Learn More About 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:

How To Create Your Twitter Account
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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