As we continue to progress into the future through digital transformation, we've learned that accessing forms via a mobile app can be an empowering strategy for many of today's businesses. Let's explore what features exist in the best mobile forms apps.
A need for apps that continue to work while “disconnected” or "offline" is nothing new. Developer's have been providing offline solutions to mobile device users since the advent of laptops. A common example are apps that allow users to enter data while a connection is unavailable, such as a worker in a remote location filling a data collection form, and then uploading the data automatically to a server, or sync, when they are within data range. And despite the ubiquitous nature of Wi-Fi and cellular connections, there are many scenarios (Wi-Fi only devices, remote locations, airplane mode) where people still need to work when a connection is unavailable.
The best mobile forms apps will be resilient to different network modes and seamlessly transition to offline modes when network connection is down or out of range. There are a couple of key capabilities that make offline use possible.
Local Data Storage and Access
Let’s take a closer look at all the possible challenges that you can deal with during offline mobile app development and explain each capability in more depth.
Local Data Storage and Access
A key function that empowers offline use for your mobile forms app is the ability to store data directly on the mobile device. This allows the mobile forms application to work effectively even when there is no connection. Here are some different methods or levels of offline data storage that enable mobile forms apps to run offline.
Local Caching and Cookies
Many web technologies for building mobile apps use browser application caching or cookies. This allows devices to retrieve web based data via a cache manifest, esstentially a simple list of files. With an app cache manifest the browser can use pages that have been already downloaded rather than immediately displaying a network connection error. This is useful but there are limits to what can be stored.
One common type of offline data for Android and iOS is Shared Preferences. It is essentially a mechanism that allows the storing of users' preferences, or pieces of information that you save regarding the configuration of your app. Often, mobile apps allow users to access these preferences so they can customize the appearance and behavior of the app.
Local (Internal/External) Storage
In many cases Local Caching and Shared Preferences methods are too limiting. Having local access to store images, serialized objects, .xml, JSON, or other files is an essential feature of the best mobile forms apps. When it comes to offline data storage, harnessing access to the devices local storage is king. When you simply need to store data to the device filesystem and don't require relational database capabilities, it is the way to go. Local storage tends to be very fast and is easy to use. It is also secure as the stored data is thoroughly private to your app, and when your app is uninstalled, the data is deleted from the device.
Last and certainly not least is the SQLite method for data storage. This is without a doubt the most powerful method for working with offline data on a device. And fortunately, the majority of mobile platforms, such as Android, iOS, and Windows Phone, provide support for using SQLite databases to store data.
SQLite is an open source database system that empowers the best mobile forms apps with the speed and power of a full featured relational database. And managing SQLite is easy with a single file to store all the data. It doesn't solve sync and conflict resolutions, but it is a great alternative for queuing or caching information. If you need to store data for a form that needs to be queried, SQLite storage is the way to do it.
Data Collection Software
This is really the primary use of mobile forms apps. Traditionally, in nearly all types of field or survey work, a worker would make use of paper forms on a clipboard to collect data. Now with the arrival of digital forms and mobile devices, this work can be done, in the field, with our without a network connection.
Not only do mobile forms apps eliminate the use of paper surveys, they also allow data to be quickly exported for data analysis and reporting.
Data collection software was first introduced in the early 1980s to address some of the issues common to paper-based forms, such as typos, inaccurate translation of hand written data, and slow detection of inaccuracies. Two of the first systems to become widely adopted where Microsoft Access and MySQL. Then came the cloud, and with it web browsers became an excellent platform for form entry and management. But despite these advances in web-based data entry, field researchers and survey teams working outside the range of network connectivity still often required paper-based data gathering. But today, thankfully, there are mobile forms apps, like those built with Alpha TransForm, that harness the cloud AND the capabilities of mobile devices to leverage the power of digital data collection with the versatility of paper based forms.
The best mobile forms apps make it possible to collect data from a smartphone, tablet or iPad, allowing the ability gathering data offline or while on-the-go. These offline capable mobile forms apps allow researchers that are working in places with unreliable internet to store a backup of their data on the mobile device and upload it to the cloud or dedicated server once an internet connection comes in range.
Before we discuss more about what the best option might be for your mobile form needs, lets examine another top feature of the best mobile forms apps...automated workflows.
What are automated workflows? Simply put, they are functions triggered in the process of using an application. To better explain, let me present a scenario.
Imagine an insurance agent is collecting data in the field regarding a car accident. Traditionally, with paper forms, the field agent would collect the data, bring it back to the office where the data would be reviewed, and costs of repair and related services would be assessed. This would then allow the insurers to report back to the vehicle owner a typical cost of repairs and appropriate payout. While the process was handled, it certainly wasn't fast or efficient.
But with automated workflows in a mobile forms app, certain form responses by the field agent could trigger automated processes to provide faster responses to the customer. For example. if a wheel was damaged, and the field agent entered the part number into the app, an automated function could be triggered to immediately lookup the average price for parts and service of a similar wheel. Relevant information would then return to the agent, automatically filling in other related fields of their form, and therefor increasing the speed and accuracy of the claims info and allowing the agent to respond to the clients needs faster and more efficiently.
This is just one specific example but it's not difficult to imagine the power and efficiency potentials of automated workflows. Whether sending an emails, push notifications, images, follow up surveys, or entering a work order into a queue, automated workflows can trigger just about any virtual task.
In order to make use of automated workflows, a mobile forms app must allow truly robust configuration. Only the best mobile forms applications platforms are up to the task. Thanks to a powerful custom programming language called TPL (TransForm Programming Language), Alpha TransForm is a great option for harnessing automated workflows from a mobile form.
Create the Best Mobile Forms Apps with Alpha TransForm
Alpha TransForm (free trial and template forms available) is a robust and affordable solution for building mobile data collection apps that work on any mobile device. Alpha TransForm allows both developers and business users to digitize mobile forms of ANY COMPLEXITY for under 1 hour of work per form page. Built-in app templates make mobile app design fast and easy.
Coding is optional, so virtually anyone can turn a paper form into a mobile app with the latest smartphone features (camera, QR codes, GPS, time/date stamping, electronic signatures, radio buttons, etc.). Power users can use the built-in programming language and on-device database storage to add more advanced capabilities, such as workflow triggering or pre-loading forms data. And the best part is that Alpha TransForm apps always work offline, so no need to worry about having an internet connection.
With affordable pricing and flexible licensing models, Alpha TransForm lets companies build as many mobile forms as they need for their field team members. Companies use Alpha TransForm to digitize data collection for order intake, inspections, Gemba Walks, 5S Audits, maintenance inspection, punch lists, safety checks, patient data intake and more.