Mobile phones have become the basic need of humans in the 21st century, as a mobile phone solves many of our day to day problems and it acts as a utility as well. Mobile phones contain applications which help us perform different kind of tasks.
The mobile application acts as an interface for the end user, where it provide an interactive medium through which end users can make requests, push commands and record their gestures, and this goes as a data transfer and transmit over the internet to reach the backend server, which process the necessary requests/tasks initiated by the end user from his/her mobile phone. It is pre-requisite to have an active internet connection in place, so that application can interact with the server at a remote location.
However, the availability of the internet is not always guaranteed. The fact remain is, that mobile network has its own limitations, the internet service availability depends upon the mobile network availability, which could be high, medium or very low at a specific area or region, which may hinder the end-user experience of using an application. The modern mobile applications should be well-equipped to encounter any sort of network failure and high latencies issues.
In this article, we will talk about the Online applications, and then the method and frameworks to ensure mobile applications are available offline as well.
What are Mobile Applications and its type?
The mobile application is a set of defined programs or set of steps which are being designed to work on mobile phones or tablets. There are three types of mobile applications.
- Native Applications
- Web-Based Application
- Hybrid Application
1. Native Application:
Native apps are designed for a particular operating system and downloaded by that platform, for example, to download Android apps we go to google play store and download the applications which will run on android operating systems. Same with Apple we go to the apple App Store and download the applications for iOS.
2. Web based Application:
We generally use a Laptop/Desktop for internet browsing and open different web pages on a browser to access the service. The web-based application runs on the browser and in that applications, users do not install the application on mobile phones, and it can be accessed through the browser.
3. Hybrid Application:
It is a mix of Native application and Web application. The hybrid apps are mainly design and developed in a native apps box that uses phone WebView object and through this WebView users can see the app on Browser as well.
What is making mobile phones so strong, so the answer is mobile phone Apps or Applications and fast Internet. Now the question comes how to develop these online Mobile Apps and make it available offline and online?
Here are some steps that we can follow to develop an Online Mobile Application.
1. The WHAT or Need or Requirement –
When we think to develop an mobile app, WHAT is the main thing that should come into the mind of a person who wants to develop the app. In the initial phase, the WHAT gives a better understanding of the problem and it also gives clarity about the execution for the next step or a requirement to develop the app. In the initial phase of an idea a person who wants to develop the app should think about the idea and how it will impact many people’s life or we can say how this app idea will transform the people life.
One more point is also very Important which is the cost of the application development. If we want to start some startup and having a great idea in mind, then we must be clear about how much budget we do have initially to develop the app or start the business.
We must think like how much total cost will be required from planning to go live on the App store. The promotion of the app on a different platform is also required on these days. Without promotions, our app will not get users and downloads. If I conclude the cost thing, as an entrepreneur we must plan everything.
After so much brainstorming if we think that the WHAT or an idea is so strong and solve many people’s problems then we can move to Step 2.
2. Wireframing and Designing –
Once we are clear about the idea and we think that we should proceed with the next step then in this step first we can create some use cases through some modeling flow diagrams like UML (Unified Modeling Language) or Wireframing Tool. We can make some use cases. Use cases help us to understand what components would be essential for the first version of the app and what will be the next enhancement we can provide to the app in later versions.
The Other step will be the design part, what we see is what sells. The UI (User Interface) part, I believe is the main attraction of any app. It should be so smooth and visually it should be an eye-pleaser for the users. The information given on User Interface should be very clearly visible and the user can navigate it very easily. The word font and the fill pages and the search bar should be good and help to the user.
3. Need of the Developer –
To design and develop any web-based or mobile-based application, you need a skilled developer and he/she will be helping to convert an idea into reality. But before selecting any developer it should be clear how experience he or she has for front-end development and backend development. The developer who works on Front end (UI) and backend called full-stack developers so instead of hiring two developers we can hire a single developer who will work as a full-stack developer.
4. Technology –
It is very important to know which technology or framework the developer will build the app and how robust that platform will be down the line.
There are majorly two types of a platform on which most of the apps runs. Android apps are listed on Play Store and in iOS Apps listed on App Store.
- iOS for Apple users
If you want to launch the app for both platforms and, there will be some technology that will require the app should work on both platforms. The technology which uses for both platforms is Cross-Platform Application development.
Most of the business firms, startups develop their mobile application on Cross-Platform technology. It will save the cost and increase the product reach.
In Cross-platform, there is some tool which uses widely.
- Adobe PhoneGap: It is on an open-source framework (Apache Cordova) and It is a very flexible and easy to use tool for cross-platform application development.
- Xamarin: It is a Microsoft product and It will make the code 80% similar for both platforms. An application developed through this tool the look and feel of those applications is so native.
- Flutter: This tool mainly uses for customized application development for Android and iOS and It makes the code available for any platform. This tool uses Dart Programming which is understandable to other language developers.
- Appcelerator: It is based on Hyperloop which is the Application Programming Interface (API) mainly use for multi-platform or cross-platform application development.
- Ionic: It is also one of the best tools for cross-platform application development and mainly uses Web API like V-DOM, JSX, etc.
After the Development, the testing is also very essential for Application Development. Without Testing, we cannot understand and observe the issue of the developed application. In testing are few things which should cover by the testing team or QA team
- Replicate real-time Internet connection on Application and check how application behaving
- Test each element of the application
- Test Current Device condition (Low hardware configuration)
5. Application Performance
After development, the real test comes into the picture, when the application goes live on Play Store or App Store and the users start downloading the app and use it extensively. The app performance should be smooth, and the user does not feel any lag or delay on loading issues or application crashes. The app should be capable to handle multiple requests of the user simultaneously and handle a high number of loads.
There are other steps as well that should be check for mobile application performance. these steps are below:
- Memory utilization
- Battery while using the application
- Application start time
- Operating system version
- Background applications
- Internet Speed
- Data request and response from server
6. Analytics of the application:
Analytics is so strong thing in Modern technology, if we want to see the trends of the data then Analytics tools help us a lot. In the mobile application development analytics is also playing a very important role for example to track mobile application progress and user consistency we can use some free or paid mobile application analytics tools. This tool helps us how many total downloads happing daily and how much time user spending on the application. These tools also analyze what functionality of the app user using much and less.
Types of Offline Apps
We have 3 broad categories of Offline application, which depend upon the function and the nature of the application.
- Data stored-Offline – These kind of applications offers functionality, but without any editing functionality. An On-demand Uber application is an example of such an application.
- Data can be edited and synched offline – A simple note taking application is an example of such application type, where we can perform the data editing and can sync it offline as well.
- User can edit other user’s data – Think of offline Google Doc application, where one user can make the edits to an offline Google document and can sync that.
Advantages of offline application
We have following advantages of Offline applications, which are making them quite popular among the smartphone users.
- No roaming cost – An offline application can help us reducing the roaming cost while travelling.
- Less Data usage – Offline applications ensures we do not use unnecessary data, and it helps us saving the data usage cost.
- Fast application load time – Offline applications offers fast load time, as we do not need to connect to the internet and perform the backend processing with the remote server.
- Saves Battery – Mobile phones consumes most of the battery while searching for network and processing data transmission. Offline application does not need an active Data or Network connection; hence it helps us save the battery.
How a mobile application handles a “No Connectivity” situation?
A mobile application must have the capability to handle the no connectivity situation.
- Whenever an application encounters a network error, the application must generate an appropriate error message at the end user’s end.
- Mobile application must have adequate procedures available, which can handle and manage the network failures.
- Mobile application must offer some cache data, which can hold the transactions or purchase made using an e-commerce application, to prevent the failure of any transaction.
- The application should have the necessary capabilities to ensure the transaction is processed, even if the user refreshes or closes the tab, or transaction stuck due to slag in the network, or sudden crash of the browser or the application.
- Mobile application should have a feature to resume from the checkpoint, where end-user left it previously.
How We Make our Mobile App available Offline:
As of now, we have seen how we can build an application but after the app development, some features help the user to access the app when the internet is not available. It means if the user has no internet connectivity, but the app should work properly. There are a few advantages to the offline app.
If we are traveling international and if have an offline MAP application on our mobile phone, then it will save roaming charges.
Suppose you want to send an urgent email to your boss and due to poor connectivity internet going off so in that case, the mail service provider app like Gmail helps us to write emails without the internet, and once the internet connectivity would be normal the mail automatically send to the boss.
How to make an Offline application
The mobile application development process remains the same in case we want to develop an offline mobile application, and it is called ‘Offline First’. It is a method to develop a mobile application in a way that it can run and perform the necessary functions in an absence of an active network connectivity.
1. Technology Behind the offline App
We have the following technologies available, which ensure the functionality of an offline application.
Data Synchronization –
When due to less internet connectivity or no internet connectivity some mobile application works on the offline mode, it means when the internet connection becomes normal again the offline data will sync between the app and database and uploaded the backend or on the database.
If We take an example of Gmail so when we write an email and send it to the sender, but what we see that the internet connection is not stable, but Google has data Synchronization functionality in their application and database whenever the network come to the email sent to the sender without any problem.
Another example is Dropbox in that we can upload files offline and once internet connectivity comes it automatically upload the data to the server.
Data Synchronization is a very essential part of mobile application development. Choosing the database for mobile app can help the application to automatically sync the data between the database and cloud server and vice versa. Couchbase and realm is the most popular database for Data sync between local and cloud server.
An application which has multi-coating data –
Many applications contain a multiple coating the meaning of coating here is there are various schemas in the single database, and all are dependent on each other. In the multi-coating data app sometimes, the app requires some changes to the database but when we use a structured database like MySQL or SQL Server then we cannot change it quickly.
To solve this type of problem we need an unstructured database that stores the data in a distributed manner the famous example of this unstructured database is MongoDB.
MongoDB is a very powerful database designed for unstructured data when we have a multi-coating application and the changes are required so frequent in that case MongoDB helps a lot to develop.
Forecast Caching –
Caching means storing the data into the buffer so for any mobile application forecast Caching or Predictive caching is the best practice and it improves the performance of the mobile application. In forecast caching data available locally and without the user’s login. MongoDB provides this feature
As we know the Web app or application are those applications which open on the computer browser, If you see the Facebook app when we open it on a Mobile application or in Laptop/Desktop browser it gives us the same result likewise any mobile application which has the web application the user data should in the sync or the application be in the sync to support the user in the better way.
2. Offline Data Storage for Mobile Application
Storing the data is the most crucial part of an offline application, as this helps it offer the required functionality to the end user. If we talk about the Android Platform, it uses SharedPreferences API’s that can help the applications to store small chunks of data. Android offers ability to store these data files in XML format in a private directory. An android application uses these preferences files for storing text, audio, pictures, video files, XML, JSON objects, serialized objects, and other files. Android application has built-in methods and procedures to receive such objects, which helps an application to offer data in offline mode.
On the other hand, the Apple’s iOS Platform uses ‘NUserDefaults’ Class to store, modify, save, and sync offline user’s data and other preferences. This class delivers a programmable interface, and in turn allows the mobile application to make changes in its behavior according to a user’s preferences.
3. High-Level Framework and Tools to design Offline mobile application
We can use the following tools and framework to design the offline applications, every tool has its own merits and demerits, and one can choose the correct tool per requirement of the project.
- Progressive Web Application – It offers power of native mobile applications with the web.
- Polymer Application Toolbox – It is a collection of tools, templates, and component for developing Progressive Web Apps with the help of Polymer.
- Hoodie – It acts as a complete backend for mobile application. It helps in the development of the frontend code as well, and once we integrate it into our API to make the application ready for use.
- Ionic – This is an Angular based tool, which helps us create the hybrid mobile applications.
- Couchbase Mobile – It is a set of tools that helps us to develop the database for the offline-first application.
- Realm Mobile Platform – It helps us in the development of an offline application by enabling the real-time data synchronization between the Realm Object server with the Realm Mobile Database embedded in an Android and iOS application.
- Mapbox Mobile – It is an open-source (Software Development Kit) SDK, that helps software developers to integrate geographical maps and turn-by-turn navigation in applications that can be used in offline mode. While using this app, we do not need an active data connection to store the maps. Both Android and iOS SDKs possess the capability to pre-cache the map data to save data charges and bandwidth. It also helps optimizing the performance and anticipate the lack of network access at any point of time.
4. Low-Level Framework and Tools to develop Offline Applications
- Service Workers – Service Workers offers AppCache, which is quite like the HTML5 Application Cache that provides a seamless browser mechanism to cache the assets for offline usage. It also offers a better control over the caching asset and content for offline usage by tracking the requests and responding with the recently fetched results when the application was offline.
- Database – Though there are plethora of Databases available in the market, I would suggest choosing IndexedDB, WebSQL, or the localStorage as a real-time natural database options.
- Other Tools – We can use some other important tools like Cloudant Sync, PouchDB, and Cloudant Envoy, which can help us develop the offline application.
As we have discussed in the article, there is no doubt that Networks can be crappy, low and intermittent, due to the battery constraints and a lot of other factors, which may require an offline mode to ensure user can keep using the application.
Poor network connectivity can jeopardize the end user experience. It leads to the dissatisfaction and frustration and may turn off the users from your product, hence developing an application which can support an offline mode or offline functionality is indeed a good idea. It will give a huge competitive edge to your application in this cut-throat competitive world.
It is always recommended to have a native mobile application instead of a responsive website while catering to a global customer base. This will help us leverage the mobile device’s storage capability to allow an offline access at any point of time. Hence, we can say that it’s really important for any business to have a mobile application, which do support an offline mode.
Rahul Mathur is the founder and managing director of ARKA Softwares, a company renowned for its outstanding mobile app development and web development solutions. Delivering high-end modern solutions all over the globe, Rahul takes pleasure in sharing his experiences and views on the latest technological trends.