There’s nothing more frustrating for mobile users than sitting on a train or bus and losing all connection to an app the second they approach a tunnel or move out of range. Even in today’s hyper-connected world, there will be plenty of times where people need to switch data off to save battery, or simply lose mobile connectivity while traveling.
As app makers, there’s little we can do about national network systems or smartphone batteries, but we do have control over the way we deliver the offline experience of our products.
What Is ‘Offline-First’?
The offline-first approach to app development is gaining ever more traction – the logic here is that your app will work beautifully all the time if you consider offline right from the start. Truly offline apps don’t need a constant internet connection to work – data is downloaded to the user’s device and can still be accessed without a connection.
No matter how connected our planet becomes in the future, ‘dead zones’ on subways and airplanes are likely to be around for a while. Even if we do reach 100% connectivity, there’s also a growing interest among some users in more consciously handling their smartphone use. For example, those interested in shielding themselves from social media addiction and data consumption may well wish to switch their data off but retain access to certain apps. If you’re offering a productivity, educational or news app, you should definitely take note of this.
Whether you’re a developer, product owner or designer, offline app use case scenarios is something worth thinking carefully about. If you haven’t designed for connectivity problems at all, this could be the make or break of your experience for many.
Who wins at the mobile offline app game?
We’ve scoured the app markets and singled out some of the best offline apps we could find. Read on to learn the reasons behind our choices.
1. BBC NEWS – NEWS APP
A regular commute or travel time provides a perfect space for many to catch up with the top stories of the day. With the BBC News app, it doesn’t matter if users are in the air, or stuck somewhere with dodgy connectivity, they’ll still get a lot of functionality through the app. The content available will be dated from the time they were last online and though the offline app won’t let you play the videos or share content, most of the content will still be available through the app’s’ feeds.
The continuity of experience – if users are in the middle of reading an article and connectivity goes, they won’t notice a thing. No distracting popups or loss of experience, likely to be highly valued if they’re engrossed in a piece of content.
2. QUIZLET – EDUCATIONAL APP
Whether someone is trying to learn a new language or a set of medical terminology, Quizlet is a great educational tool. Users can go ahead and create as many cue card sets as they wish on the free version of the app and study free of notifications in airplane mode. With the paid version, they’re also able to retain access to public sets added from other users of the app.
Other than being able to search and add new sets from other users, Quizlet’s offline experience retains all the key functionality. They’ve considered when users are likely to use the app – on long journeys or during times of intentional disconnection. With 0 network, they can still create and edit your own flashcard sets, and move through all of the ‘Learn’, ‘Write’, ‘Match’ and ‘Test’ study phases.
3. KINDLE – BOOK APP
With a bit of forward planning, the Kindle app provides everything needed for a seamless app experience when not connected to the internet. Users just need to download the books they want to be available through their phone and they’re good to go.
In the offline version, Kindle users have still got all the font and view settings available to them, they can continue to add and make notes about their reading material and due to the number of integrations with other apps on your phone, the ‘Send to Kindle’ option is fantastic for handling the content of less offline-ready apps.
4. GOOGLE TRANSLATE – REFERENCE APP
Google Translate is the ultimate travel tool when it comes to offline translation, Users just need to download their language of choice before losing connection. This is a common need when travelling to a country without similar data agreements. For offline moments of urgency where a user simply needs to ensure there’s no risk of being misinterpreted (‘I have an allergy’), this app could literally prove to be a lifesaver.
At the time of writing, Google Translate offers offline support for 59 languages so the breadth is good and the bank of languages is only going to get larger. In the offline experience, users can hover over content with the camera function and upload photos to the app for a full translation.
Thanks to their recent introduction of neural machine translation (NMT) for offline uses, the capacity for offline translation has also become much better in recent years. The new AI essentially looks at the wider context of a sentence to determine the most relevant translation, rather than piece by piece.
5. PLAYON CLOUD – STREAMING APP
PlayOn Cloud works with a number of subscription-based entertainment apps including Showtime, Netflix and more. While connected to Wifi, media lovers can download content from these channels and aggregate a range of downloaded content within the app.
PlayOn Cloud is a great tool for those with multiple media subscription accounts – all that’s needed is one app, saving on storage and battery. This is ideal for long trips access to power or connectivity isn’t expected for a while. In the connected state, the tool also offers a ‘Restrict downloads to off-peak’ option (Beta) – meaning users don’t need to keep checking their connection, they can simply schedule the downloading and the app will take care of it.
6. Mekorama – GAMING APP
(Via the Apple Store)
Recipient of the Jury’s Honorable Mention at the 13th IMGA, Martin Magni’s Mekorama game offers an engaging experience both online and offline. This is fast becoming a popular choice for lovers of puzzles, 3D architectural graphics…it’s also got a bit of physics thrown in there. The app is free to download and while the task of navigating the robot through start to endpoints may seem straightforward, the app plays with shifting perspectives, interactivity, and physics which tends to make things a bit more tricky.
Mekorama is a great game for a mixture of simplicity and brain-training- according to current reviews, it’s even got the potential to be a useful tool for Alzheimer’s patients.
(Mekorama on the Android store)
Gamers can play with the app for as long as they want for free, then choose to pay what they think it’s worth. The game is available for both Android and iPhone and the offline experience is exactly the same as the online one, perfect for moments of boredom while commuting.
7. HERE WeGo – NAVIGATION & GPS APP
(Source: Google Play Store)
Nokia’s HERE WeGo app currently offers offline downloadable maps for more than 100 countries and offers public transit information for 1300 cities. While Google Maps is the alternative obvious choice when it comes to navigation and offers more in terms of the geographic coverage, HERE WeGo has really honed its experience for travelers without connectivity. Android user reviews suggest its search feature works better and drivers appreciate that it shows more of an actual street, making it easier to take correct turns.
While Google’s voice instructions can lag, HERE WeGo offers an improved experience in this respect. They also offer no time limit on the downloaded maps where Google’s automatically expire, which can be inconvenient for some.
Tracking your offline app experience
If you’re an app maker whose decided to embrace offline use, the last thing you want is for these unconnected sessions to fall down an analysis black hole. Luckily, there are a number of mobile app tracking tools available which have already recognized for this scenario – Appsee has been offering offline recordings for some time now.
With our offline app tracking, you can explore the experiences of your offline users and quickly identify any specific performance or UX issues. You have the option to pre-select specific settings for your offline segment, or simply apply the same settings that you’re using for online scenarios. With this functionality, you’ll have all the tools necessary to optimize for and deliver an offline experience to rival your online UX -you’ll be keeping unconnected users happy and stand a better chance of trumping your closest competitors.
See for yourself how Appsee’s offline user recordings and qualitative analytics can help you create the best possible experience for your users – sign up for your 14-day free trial here.