An Inventory of Knowledge
Every mobile app in the market today requires an internet connection to a certain extent and the reason is quite obvious – exchanging data between the user and the server. However, an app that demands a constant internet connection to work seamlessly has some acute disadvantages. One of the biggest pitfalls is the app becomes useless when there is no internet connectivity. To counteract this, you should turn to an offline-first mobile app development approach to offer a better experience to users.
An offline-first app, as the name suggests, doesn’t need a constant internet connection. It downloads data from the server and stores it locally on the user’s device, which can be accessed offline. And when the internet connection is available, the app downloads updates from the server, while simultaneously uploading the changes that the user had made offline.
Like the continuous expansion of the internet, the issues related to its connection are also widespread. Being a business person, you must know that most users are impatient. If your app loads slowly or stops working abruptly due to low or no internet connection, they can get frustrated especially when they’re in the middle of something using your app. After experiencing such issues, users might abandon your app. So, creating an offline-first app with the help of iOS/Android app developers can avert situations like this.
Besides, the offline-first approach can be beneficial if your app has a large database that enables users to search for specific information. By developing a smaller version of a database that can be downloaded to the user’s device, you not only make your app more useful but also ensure that users can access the information even if there is no internet connection.
If you think your app has some features that don’t need constant internet connectivity to function, you should definitely go for an offline-first approach. Developing an offline-first app may be more complicated than developing an app that operates entirely with the internet, but it also comes with benefits like better performance and user experience.
The first and foremost thing to consider while developing is an offline-first design is how your application will handle the absence of constant connection to the database. Basically, there are three ways to store, sync, and update the local data which includes caching, manual replication, and real-time data synchronization.
Caching is the easiest way to manage local data and make it accessible if the app isn’t connected to the database. This approach can do wonders only if your app is simple. However, if you want to make your app capable of editing data and applying changes to it without an internet connection, caching is not the best idea.
Manual replication allows users to change the viewed data offline by marking objects as “changed”. Users can manually upload the changes and download new data when the app connects to the server. However, this approach can be unpredictable and crash because of the issues with the internet or server, leading to data conflicts or poor app performance.
This approach is akin to manual replication but allows data to be uploaded automatically rather manually. An offline app that leverages more advanced synchronization protocols transfers the changed version of the data as well as the actions made to edit it. This enables the system to resolve data conflicts automatically and improve the overall app performance.
What if the server changes the database online and the user simultaneously edits the exact part of that data offline? The server will encounter two conflicting pieces of data while trying to upload the information, which can lead to unpredictable system behavior and server crashes.
This situation is comparatively easier to handle, but many other issues can result in data conflicts. To cope with these issues, you need to create an app that could resolve conflicts quickly and predictably. For instance, you can clarify which piece of data has a higher priority to deal with the conflict described in the above situation.
An offline-first app works in two different modes – online and offline. Developing an online mode is easier since all the mobile design guidelines apply here while managing offline mode can be quite complicated.
Besides, an offline-first app should have useful features that work while not connected to the server. These features will depend on the kind of your app and the technical aspect of your project, as there are certain limitations to what can be done offline.
Understanding your app’s functionalities is one thing, but making them clear to the user is completely a different challenge. Finding hard to determine which functions are available offline and which works online can trigger a confusing experience.
Let’s understand this phenomenon with an example of a shared text editor with a document that simultaneously can be edited by two users. If one user goes offline while another continues to edit, there will be two versions of the same doc. Consequently, there will be a lot of unnecessary work and unhappy users. To avert such a situation, you can let users decide whether they want to continue editing offline or not. Also, warning them about the conflicting versions via a notification will save their time and improve their experience.
By adopting an offline-first approach, you provide a stable user experience no matter if your app is connected to the internet or not. Developing an offline-first app for Android and iOS may be complicated, but it will take your user experience to the next level. If you’re wondering if your app can benefit from offline-first approach or planning to invest in iOS/Android app development services, feel free to contact us. We will be more than happy to answer your queries and estimate your project for free.