Planning an app - What if there's no internet connection? - Smile Machine
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Planning an app – What if there’s no internet connection?

Planning an app – What if there’s no internet connection?

What’s our app going to do when there’s no internet connection? If you’re planning an app, you need to think about how users will engage with your app when they inevitably lose connection to the internet. Here are some ideas to get you going.

It’s (Not Always) A Connected World

Nowadays, it’s difficult to live without the internet, and in an ideal world, most of us want to be connected 24/7. We’d be able to travel around the globe connecting to a 4G network and settle down at home or work to use our WiFi. Unfortunately, reality hasn’t caught up with fantasy just yet. We’ve all had those infuriating moments where the WiFi or network deliberately stopped working just as we were about to do something really, really important.

So if you’re making an app, what can you do to maintain your user experience for when your app inevitably goes offline?

Let Users Access and Store Your Data

Offline caching is one of the first things to look at.

If, for example, your app provides news, you can attempt to update the stories whilst the user is sitting at their desk or before they leave for work so that when it’s time to commute, the stories are available offline. This is a huge benefit for travellers such as those on the tube who will have limited access to network connectivity in the stations. Take the Guardian app as an example of this. You can choose a time of day for the stories to sync as well as being able to control how much the app should sync. The app offers a partial experience and can only show the text of the articles, but should the user want to they’re also able to download the images and comments on articles. This approach works well for apps where the majority of the users will be consuming rather than creating content because this caching layer will also help when the network is slow as the app can request its stories from the phone’s storage, rather than having to go all the way to the Guardian’s servers.

You can also provide online synced progress like you would in a Mobile Learning app. When a user completes a module, their progress can be saved locally before syncing to the cloud when network connectivity returns.

Be Prepared for Failure

It’s simple – if you want to increase user engagement and improve your app ratings, you need to be implementing offline capabilities to create a seamless user experience, ensuring they don’t get a blank screen. Testing for a network failure isn’t easy, but it just has to be done. I’ve seen apps in the past whose network handling meant that if something failed mid-flight, the app would just crash. This simply isn’t good enough now. In an age where mobile networks have been known to go down, or other configuration issues can cause problems, degrading gracefully is the best option you can give your users. Facebook, for example, will allow you to compose a post but will store it offline until network connectivity is resumed.

When making your app, a potential lack of network needs to be taken into account if you want the best possible experience for your users. As much as we’d like to be connected 24/7, the truth is, for now, this isn’t possible.

So plan for it – the experience your app provides while offline is just as important as when it’s online.