It only takes a quick glance down a busy street to see the effects of an app-orientated world: everyone seems to be on their phone or tablet. People want a fast and reliable mobile experience that is not crippled by an unreliable internet connection, writes Huw Owen, Head of EMEA & APJ at Couchbase.
Even if it’s just for thirty seconds, the result of a poor or lost connection is no longer just inconvenience for the user – it can in fact be crippling for the wide variety of businesses that rely on mobile apps to operate.
What’s more, lack of connectivity isn’t the only thing that causes problems. A user interacting with an app can result in hundreds of exchanges of data over the internet. If the connection is weak or the app is data-intensive, it can make for a poor user experience.
We may be at a point where the sophistication of mobile apps is surpassing big screen alternatives, but most mobile apps – whether digital banking, field service such as utilities, ecommerce, navigation, or something else – still connect to cloud-based databases and therefore rely on a stable, strong connection to operate properly and ensure a satisfactory user experience.
Businesses are starting to realise that in order to meet the expectation for a consistently good user experience at any place, any time, even when offline, they need to store some data securely on the device itself. Embedding a database within a mobile app might seem a complex concept, but there are already plenty of companies that have taken the leap with huge success.
By recognising the key takeaways from the below examples, businesses should realise offline-ready mobile apps with embedded databases are not to be feared, but instead present a great opportunity.
From the Shop Floor to the Side-lines, it’s Time to Go Offline
For businesses, transforming mobile processes to operate anywhere, at anytime, may seem an impossible task. Thanks to offline access and data synchronisation, however, businesses within a variety of sectors have been able to do just this.
For retailers, the need to operate mobile applications offline is more pressing than ever, since network reliability in stores can be compromised by unreliable WiFi and poor reception. One way to overcome this is by giving employees access to offline-first mobile apps on their devices, as Louis Vuitton has done.
Its sales staff do not need an internet connection to source product information, but instead use an app that synchronises catalogue data to instantly show customers the most up-to-date product information. This not only improves customer experience, but also makes employees’ lives easier and the sales process significantly more efficient.
Parcel delivery company Doddle has put in place offline capabilities to improve the service it offers in busy locations such as railway stations, where networks are often congested. Its staff can continue to serve customers regardless of whether their devices have connectivity or not. Similarly, Ryanair has made its in-app booking process 60 percent faster by using technology that stores semi-static data locally on the user’s device. The app’s embedded database provides customers with instant offline access to their flight information, yet any changes made while offline will still be reflected once the connection is restored.
Gone are the days of helplessly praying the internet doesn’t cut out when making that all-important booking – all thanks to Ryanair capitalising on the new mobile capabilities the digital age has to offer.
Adding offline capabilities to mobile applications also opens a range of opportunities that simply weren’t possible before. For example, SyncThink has pioneered an innovative sports technology that uses offline capabilities to assess injuries on the side-lines during rugby games. Its eye-tracking technology (EYE-SYNC) helps doctors spot and treat concussion symptoms far faster than previously. In busy sports stadiums, where thousands of fans’ devices can hinder connectivity, not needing a constant internet connection is crucial in delivering accurate results.
Taking the Plunge
Getting offline-first mobile right does present some challenges and in order to get it right, organisations should consider the following:
- Search: Mobile apps must be able to search the relevant database – either embedded in the app, or in the cloud – effectively, even when connectivity is lost. Offline apps need to quickly query and deliver accurate information to users as promptly as those connected to the internet.
- Sync: One of the main requirements for mobile applications today is to deliver an always-on experience with guaranteed data availability, even when there is intermittent network connectivity. Peer-to-peer synchronisation is one way for businesses to have devices talking to each other and exchanging data when there is a patchy internet connection.
- Security: It is somewhat inevitable that the more operations run across multiple devices, the more security risks emerge. Since offline apps exchange data between other devices, the internet and the cloud, businesses must look at their security practices across all devices and platforms. In particular, secure transporting and storage of data, authentication, and data access control are key functions to have at the top of the agenda.
- Scalability: Mobile is only set to grow in prevalence and so it’s vital that businesses future-proof their mobile infrastructure, with the flexibility to scale from hundreds to millions of users if required.
Make the connection
For many organisations today, doing mobile successfully means maintaining at least some capabilities when devices are offline or suffering from slow or patchy connection. We’re already starting to see examples of organisations across all industries expanding their mobile horizons with the capability to do just that.
These organisations all have one thing in common: they have invested in the right database platform to underpin these new applications: one that is responsive, secure and extends to the edge with offline capabilities.