Offline Mobile App architecture: Why you should build Offline-first apps
How many times has this happened to you when you have wanted to book a cab through Ola or über but due to network issues, the taxi couldn’t be secured, and now you are stuck in the middle of the road looking for an auto-rickshaw? This has happened with some of the other people at some point in time. But the question is, is it a big deal? For users, it might not be a big deal. Still, for app developers, if the customer faces network issues now and then and the app requires a stable 4G connectivity to load, they will become frustrated and never revisit the app. They might also rate the mobile app with very few stars, leading to lesser use of the mobile app. So, developers should not focus on developing offline-first apps that solve network failure and latencies. Offline mobile apps are playing major role in driving apps in on demand platform.
What are offline mobile apps?
The Offline-first approach is where the app is built to function even when there is no network connection, and users can still sync and transfer data and get updates. These mobile apps can work without an internet connection and are very helpful when there is a problem with internet connectivity and issues. It is hard to believe that network issues persist even at such times, but the statistics clarify that such problems continue. This requires the need to build offline-first apps that can work even without internet coverage.
Need for offline-first apps
As per statistics, around 70 percent of users leave the app if it does not load well. And about 54 percent would never revisit the mobile app if it has failed them.
Most of the mobile apps require a decent and robust internet connection to work and operate. But if you don’t have a receptive connection, then the app will not work or be very slow. At such times, offline mobile apps will be handy as they will move the content from the server to the phone. Take the instance of a shopping app where you add the items you need into the cart. In online apps, you will need to repeatedly move back and forth to the server to choose and put them into the cart.
But if there is low connectivity, it can become frustrating at times. With the offline mobile app, the content is moved to the app, i.e. you can choose and put the items into the cart while being offline, and for buying and making the final payment, you will need an Internet connection. This will speed up the whole process of shopping, and things will be more streamlined.
How do the offline mobile apps work?
In the traditional online apps, the content is stored at one place on the server, convenient and simplifies the synchronization process. But for the user to access the data and information, it needs to have a stable internet connection because the data is updated now and then for the users. But in the case of offline-first apps, the information doesn’t require constant updating, so the device is not necessary to request new data from the server. This fastens the process and works even when there is no connection or network issues. The app’s data and content are enough and can be accessed by the user anytime and anywhere.
Approaches to developing offline-first app architecture
The data is stored, synched, and accessed in offline mobile apps depending on the architecture, server, and device. The basic approaches to developing offline-first app include-
- One approach is to edit the data offline and make changes in the object. When the network issue is resolved, it will sync the changes through push and pull operations.
- Another approach is that the data syncs happen automatically without any intervention. The changes are transferred in the binary format between the device and the server, and only some data is synchronized after accessing the information intended for the specified user.
- The last approach is to store the data offline, and the users can access the data offline without an internet connection. This approach is known as caching. The process involves storing data on a local server or browser from where the information can be accessed.
Some offline-app strategies for making the app communicate with the backend server
Strategies for making the app communicate with the backend server include-
- Pushing data in– the strategy involves the server sending an alert to the user via push notification that new data is available on the server for download. After receiving the notification, the user can refresh the local database and get the latest and updated version.
- The server and the app tracks all the new data and changes so that the data is equal on both sides. The app can make changes in the offline mode, and once the internet connection is there, the data has shared both ways with the updated version.
- In this strategy, the app guesses the user’s preference and sends and stores data in the cache whenever the network is available. The apps work well in the offline mode, but the synching takes place only when the system is available. The name of this strategy is Prefetching.
Push notification based data synchronization
- Here the required information and data can be sent inside a message that will be pushed to the cloud instead of storing data on the app. This way, it is up to the discretion of the user’s discretion to download the data.
- One of the strategies here is to send the notification for data updates and download the data. Unlike the usual, a notification goes instead of sending a detailed message.
- One strategy here includes making use of the databases that already exist and can be self-synchronized. Databases like NoSQL or SQL help solve the problems or issues faced when migrating a local database to a remote database.
- Custom made synchronization databases are another strategy where one can control what amount of data and what data they want to see and access. This strategy will help decide the process of synchronization, synchronize, and avoid conflicts.
Caching is another strategy where the user might like to see and have access to recent data. This strategy works well when no other synchronization strategy is relevant. The device memory stores most of the data as a cache.
Some common tools for developing offline mobile apps
Some of the tools used for developing offline mobile apps include-
- Progressive web apps are beneficial because they blend both the best of web and native apps. The user gets the experience of browsing a website as well. Google is a well-known example of the same.
- Polymer app toolbox- this includes components, tools, and templates. It also makes use of service workers to offer offline caching.
- Hoodie- hoodie is a solution for mobile apps, including creating front-end code, which can be plugged into the API to get the app ready.
- Mapbox mobile- this tool helps the developers insert detailed maps and turn-by-turn navigation features offline.
- Service workers- this kind of tool provides a browser mechanism that has caching content and assets that can be used offline. They also help to resolve the client’s requests to return cached results when offline.
- Cloudant Sync- this is useful for developers to build mobile apps offline-first. Cloudant sync can store data locally on the device and sync it upon implementation of the CouchDB replication protocol
Benefits of offline mobile apps
Let’s find out some of the services that building an offline-first app can provide.
- The first and foremost benefit is that it resolves the issue of low internet connectivity. Through the offline-first apps, the user need not worry about low-speed internet or poor connectivity. They can use the mobile app without an internet connection.
- The offline mobile app development helps gain customer loyalty as the user can take advantage of the app even without an internet connection. These apps work faster and are convenient to use.
- Offline-first apps provide the opportunity to manage to cache steps efficiently.
- It also simplifies storage as the data is stored and updated on the server. When necessary, unlike in online apps where the data can be accessed only when the user has an internet connection.
- The offline mobile app loads faster as it doesn’t require the server to load the app. One can avail of the services from anywhere and at any time.
- The offline mobile app saves a lot of battery of your smartphone. They have features like a fast loading process, efficient data management, and ease of caching.
- The developers building offline-first apps are under more advantage as users prefer apps that can work without an internet connection. They have a competitive advantage over others.
- The offline-first apps are beneficial for people of rural areas and face the more significant internet connectivity issue. In some places, they don’t even have an internet connection.
Which industries should consider an offline-first app architecture?
There are specific industries that can benefit from building an offline-first app. Let’s have a look at a few of them.
- The offline-first app can be very beneficial for traveling industries. They come in handy for the tourist guides to access places without an internet connection.
- Such apps are also helpful in training and education. They store data on the smartphone and do not require regular updating.
- It is also beneficial for the games and the entertainment industry.
- These apps are convenient for online shopping. You can store the items in the cart offline and make the payment later when there is an internet connection.
- For important information and news, the offline-first apps are also very beneficial
Examples of some offline-first apps
These are some offline-first apps which are quite popular among the users and can inspire others to build their own.
- Trip advisor– this travel program app provides many features offline, like allowing tourists to travel expertly. It provides features like detailed reviews, maps, and images.
- Spotify– this is a very popular music offline-app. The user can listen to any song of their choice without an internet connection. It provides the offline option mode where the user can listen to songs of their choice.
- Google Drive- also provides the option for the user to work with the file even without an internet connection.
A good user experience and loyalty is a must for any mobile app. If the app faces low internet speed, it becomes frustrating for the user to hold on to the app. The offline-first apps will be a perfect option for the users. Without an internet connection, they can access data, and the business can gain a competitive edge over the others. Although it might require some initial investment and cost, it will be worth every penny.