Introduction to Building Offline-First Apps

Introduction to Building Offline-First Apps

We're living in a connected world. Everything is connected to the Internet, right from your mobile to your fridge. However, not everything is connected to the Internet every time. This means that while developing apps, we need to make sure that the User Experience should remain responsive even if the device goes offline.

There are few use-cases that require offline first functionality. The most common ones are-

  • On ground survey apps
  • Mobile CRMs
  • Music and Podcast apps
  • Games
  • Utilities and productivity apps like Todos, Notes, etc.

As we all are aware that shopping or directory apps store large datasets and can only be accessed online, such apps slow down whenever there's a slow connection and not performing at all when the user is offline.

But, with forward-planning, it's possible to supply a quick, high-quality app experience offline. 

website traffic
website traffic

Why is it important to build an offline-first app for better user experience?

The disadvantage of most online apps is that they require an honest and reliable internet connection. Without a reliable internet connection, the App is probably going to be slower and fewer responsive.

While most apps require an online connection, they don't necessarily need one all the time. Offline first-apps allow users to access offline data that doesn't change frequently and thus doesn't require constant updates. 

Offline-first apps make it possible to maneuver content off the server and onto the phone. If an app only has got to attend the server when it must, instead of all the time, it'll be faster and more reliable. This is often particularly significant where content doesn't change often, but users require fast access.

Take, for instance, the supermarket shopping app which you're trying to use in your kitchen, where your WiFi reception is poor. With a standard online app, filling your cart requires the App to travel back and forth to the server all the time: due to the poor connection, it's slow and frustrating.

Offline-first apps move the content (the supermarket's directory of products) to the App, thus speeding up the shopping experience. Users can browse the items to finish the payment and schedule of the delivery. By moving a number of the server-stored content to the App, the entire user experience is quicker, smoother, and more reliable.

Advantages of Offline First-App

There are many advantages to creating an offline first-app. Here are some of them:

The App can be utilized in areas of poor connectivity.

A good reason to think about building an offline-first app is that it can be utilized in areas of poor signal, just like the countryside or areas with limited WiFi connectivity. This is often especially relevant for users who travel frequently and can't depend upon having a reliable mobile signal.

Hire NodeJs Developer
Hire NodeJs Developer

The offline App offers an outsized directory of content, accessible via an inquiry function.

Searching large volumes of online data is often time-consuming, where an internet connection is slow or unreliable. This issue isn't confined to shopping apps, affecting museum and gallery visitor programs that include catalogs of paintings, archival objects, or other media. Implementing a light-weight version of a web database will improve your UX in terms of speed and accessibility.

Have a foothold on the Competition

The app market is large, and there's often a minimum of one competitor per App. Consider Uber and Lyft, or WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. 

People usually choose apps that support a variety of things. A number of them choose a far better functionality, while others appreciate top-notch UX/UI design

But what if your competitor is a web app while you're offline? In no-network zones, you've got a greater chance of winning over the Competition. 

Gain More Loyalty from Users

If a user knows they will trust your App in areas of poor connectivity, they're going to become more loyal. 

Users also appreciate apps that offer offline features:

  • Users want an app that works instantly and with no delays or difficulties.
  • Users can make changes to their data, no matter an online connection.
  • When stored locally, the info has little to no chance of getting breached. 
  • Offline apps require little or no loading time.

The main task in the offline-first design you need to solve is how your App will handle the absence of the constant connection to the database. There are three approaches to storing, syncing, and updating the local data:

Write to File

  1. Write data to plain text files and save them in a private folder of the App
  2. Pros-
    • Simplest of all the techniques
    • Requires very fewer efforts to implement
    • Suitable for small apps with few screens
  3. Cons-
    • Data inconsistency
    • Can't query data and whole file has to be kept in memory and then parsed
    • Not suitable for even moderately complex apps (which most of the apps are)

SharedPreferences / NSUserDefaults

  1. Write data to an internal XML file in a key-value pair format. SharedPreference is for Android & NSUserDefaults is for iOS
  2. Pros-
    • Both the OS provides a good level of abstraction and set of methods to query data easily
    • Best suited for storing session relation information like JWT tokens, user details, etc
    • Suitable for moderately complex apps
  3. Cons-
    • Can become slow if a lot of data is stored
    • Provides only key-value pair data access. Querying the data can lead to complex and unmaintainable code.
    • No method to search for keys/values. Data can be retrieved only if one knows the key's name.

SQLite / Core Data

  1. Full relational database support with complete control over data modeling. SQLite is used in Android, while Core Data is used in iOS. Core Data provides an abstraction layer on top of SQLite in iOS.
  2. Pros-
    • Used by millions of apps worldwide, which means you can't go wrong when choosing this solution for data persistence.
    • Full relational database which means it's easy to model the data using existing modeling techniques
    • Easy & fast data search because of SQL support along with indexing
  3. Cons-
    • The additional overhead of managing the database schema. Any change in the model will lead to either deletion or migration of the database.
    • Suitable only for complex apps like eCommerce, social media, etc.
    • Developer tooling to inspect the database contents easily while debugging is yet to be developed.
business in pandemic
pandemic

Other notable persistence solutions

Realm

The Client-side database allows the App to interact with synced data that has been stored locally. The Realm synchronization services operate in the background and restore synchronization in the event of a lost network connection.

ObjectBox

ObjectBox is 10x faster than any alternative, improving response rates and enabling real-time applications. Check out our benchmarks. ObjectBox' out-of-the-box synchronization makes data available when needed where needed, so you can take your App to live faster.

Couchbase

Couchbase deals with all the communication of the App and has a fully functional offline app. This pattern provides a very good user experience because you actually render the page based on the current status of the App. The application itself never does any call to the backend, the only responsibility it has is to save states and render them; this way it's possible to have a fully functional app working offline.

Conclusion

The app industry is continuously evolving with technology. Mobile apps are booming everywhere, the planet delivering its awesome features for the users. Everyone is aware of the very fact that Mobile App Development for Online Business may be a beneficial task and will get performed effectively. Mobile app developers are striving hard to adopt new technologies and make use of the latest tools for delivering up-to-date mobile apps within the market.

Offline first-app is a rapidly growing trend in the market. Such apps take full advantage of the web when it's available but understand that internet access is usually temporary. Plenty of work is being done to define the offline-first future.

The offline first apps build a reliable and secure environment that will be useful for people of all ages and every one of the kinds like kids, adults, office persons, homemakers, colleges and faculty people. Developing an app that will work even in offline mode or adopt the offline capability will allow people to urge a flexible mobile app experience when the connection is low, slow, flickering, or not working.

There are many various mobile app development companies creating offline-first apps. If you also want to implement an offline-first app, then contact us at sales@citrusleaf.in.