We’re still waiting for the day when WiFi is truly ubiquitous (anywhere, anytime). Until then, offline apps are critical to business.

We're still waiting for the day when WiFi is truly ubiquitous (anywhere, anytime). Until then, offline apps are critical to business.

For years we’ve been told that the Internet is about to become ubiquitous, that no matter where you are, you’ll always have unbreakable, high-speed access. Well, we’re still waiting for that time. It’s not here yet, and it likely never will be. As Mike Elgin writes in Computerworld, “It’s clear that the mobile industry has finally given up on the fantasy that an Internet connection is available to all users at all times. Reality has set in.” And that’s why offline apps are so vital for any company writing mobile apps today, or tomorrow.

There are countless instances in which Internet access simply isn’t available via Wi-Fi or mobile networks, notably for field-service personnel working in remote locations. But it’s not just them. People in rural areas often have spotty service. People on airplanes or subways typically can’t get onto the Internet, either. There are also many less-developed places around the world where it’s difficult to get a connection.

Africa and Asia have the lowest Internet penetration rates in the world, yet people on those continents bank and shop using financial applications and get their news and education online — they do it via offline apps.

But even if people are temporarily out of reach of the Internet, they still need to use apps. And that’s why Serhiy Kozlov, founder and CEO of Romexsoft, writes in “Why It’s Important for Your Business to Make Your Mobile App Work Offline” that “building offline mobile applications is both critical and a huge trend.”

Kozlov notes that Africa and Asia have the lowest Internet penetration rates of anywhere in the world, yet people on those continents bank and shop using financial applications and get their news and education online. They do it via offline apps — apps that can keep working even when not connected to the Internet by using techniques such as caching.

In fact, he writes, “Even in the U.S., it is estimated that 15% of users are actually using offline apps at any given time. They are on airplanes; they are on subways; they are in areas famous for ‘dead zones.’”

And that’s why if you’re not developing offline apps, you’re failing. As Kozlov writes, “Businesses and organizations that do not build an offline app mode lose all of these people. The implications for e-commerce are obvious – customers (and thus revenues) are lost.”

It’s not just ecommerce that needs offline apps. So do industries that have field workers, like construction and oil. The transportation industry needs it as well. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find an industry that doesn’t need to use offline apps.  Still not convinced?  A recent report indicated that 78% of enterprise architects had plans to build apps that require offline support or data caching. 

But offline capability in your apps, isn't always a quick checkbox to fill.  properly sync data, resolve server conflicts, etc. must be done correctly to make sure your offline app can handle tough business requirements.  For example, Can your offline app do data synchronization and intelligent conflict resolution (aside from "last-in wins"?  If the answer is "No," then it means your apps will likely have severe limitations that could hurt your ability to intelligently capture store and sync data.
 
If you need a deeper dive on some of the complex issues around robust offline app development, read our technical whitepaper written by InfoWorld product review, Martin Heller. Heller breaks down what can occur if a mobile application is not properly designed for offline use and the problems that arise with a simplistic server wins/client wins approach to data synchronization and conflict resolution. The whitepaper is available for free:  "Offline App Development: Data Synchronization and Conflict Resolution Can Be Hard, but a New Approach Using Deferred Updating Simplifies the Implementation."
 
An example of an offline app built by an Alpha Anywhere customer to inspect oil platforms in the North Sea.

Here at Alpha Software, we know how important offline apps are. We’ve been a pioneer in building them. Alpha Anywhere has had the capability to build offline apps for years. In fact, on the right is an example of a robust offline app built for maintaining oil platforms in the North Sea. Alpha Anywhere offline apps have transformed business application development so that developers can create offline capable apps and offline forms with virtually no incremental effort or cost. Countless businesses have built offline apps using it, including American Pool and Dwellpoint. We’ve even created a free mobile inspection app with offline capabilities that you can download for free. 

So if you’re looking to get started building offline apps, or are looking to improve the ones you’ve already built, give Alpha Anywhere a try. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to build offline apps.