The new mobile first: Why Offline First should be on every developer’s radar

The Offline First strategy means creating apps to work without internet access

smartphone checking email mobile device
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We’ve all been there. Your app breaks because of lack of internet connection and you can’t read the urgent email from your boss because you’re stuck in the subway, or your map app doesn’t work while you’re lost driving in the middle of nowhere.

To say this is frustrating is an understatement, but what if this doesn’t have to be the case?

A new approach to application development gaining traction within the developer community can help. Called Offline First, this method means creating applications to work without internet access in the most resource constrained environments like underground train stations or in remote places abroad. Features can be added to make the applications more robust once internet access is available again, but overall it provides users with a more consistent app experience with or without an internet connection.

It is possible to function without internet

Remember when mobile first was all the rage? Offline First is the latest iteration of the progressive enhancement paradigm behind mobile first. Similar to the mobile first development phenomenon where applications are designed for mobile users first and then progressively enhanced for users with larger screen sizes, Offline First encourages application developers to build for the most resource-constrained environments first.

With an Offline First approach, data and application logic is pushed to the edges of the network and most of the application usage is on the end-user’s device, not via the network. This approach improves user experience, which is crucial to the success of an application and an area in which every developer should strive to excel.

When developers build applications, they typically have a reliable network connection and are likely working in an environment very different from what their end users will experience. It’s important to consider the range of network conditions in which one’s app might be used.

Uncovering economic opportunities in developing countries

Offline First can also help organizations that are trying to reach people in developing areas of the globe. In countries like Cambodia or the Dominican Republic, network connections are not always as advanced or as reliable as in developed countries. This can limit access to critical information such as maps, news, and notifications from loved ones.

Since an Offline First approach creates applications that are built to work with as little network connection as possible, not the other way around, countries with poor network connection are able to use applications to access information that was previously only available when online. Organizations can tap unexplored markets in countries with limited network connection and bring economic opportunity to the developing world.  Offline First apps have also been used to fight ebola in Nigeria and to provide modern hospital information systems to developing countries

Arming the offline sales force

CRM (customer relationship managemen) is an essential tool for sales representatives, and mobile CRM tools are becoming more popular for the traveling salesman. Yet, sales reps can’t guarantee flawless internet connection during customer onsites or en route to prospects.

eFrontech built an Offline First application that allows sales representatives to access to their customer data at anytime, anywhere. In a field where every second counts, salesmen are now easily able to pull up customer data and competitive insights for a more effective sales cycle and better customer service.

Join us

The Offline First movement is still in its early stages, but the recent momentum from our growing community has the potential to make this as big as the mobile first movement.

There are lots of resources available to get involved with the Offline First community:

  • Learn more about Offline First at offlinefirst.org

  • Talk with others in the Offline First community at offlinefirst.org/chat

  • Meet others Offline First community members at an Offline Camp (offlinefirst.org/camp)

  • There will also be a presentation on the topic at SXSW 2017 with developers from IBM, Microsoft, OpenNews, and Hoodie.

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