Between Wi-Fi and cell phone data, it’s hard to imagine a time when a mobile user is without internet access. So with that in mind, it’s easy to see why there are more than a few apps that don’t support being offline. How much of a good idea is that really though?

In building out my app LastCheck, I learned this very lesson. Going over this process overall helped me overall improve the app and better understand what’s important for the app to function. That’s the very process and takeaways I’ll be discussing in this article.

Should Your App Work Offline

This is a question as app developers and product owners we need to be honest with. Offline functionality shouldn’t be viewed as a required feature for every application that hits app stores. There are plenty of product ideas where it just doesn’t make sense for a user to use the app w/out an internet connection.

Take for example a shopping app like Amazon or Wayfair. In what way would it make sense for users to be able to use these shopping apps offline? At most, maybe browse locally stored data that the app could persist to the installed device. Outside of that, it really doesn’t make sense to want to use these types of apps offline.

In another case, an app like Google or Apple Maps, offline functionality makes sense because map information is a 1:1 data relationship that doesn’t need to be live data to work properly. A downloaded map saved to the app’s internal storage, in conjunction with some other velocity and tracking features, should keep the user functioning while offline. This works because the features of the app are allowing this functionality.

Build Around Your App Features

As we’ve just learned, building a great offline experience for your users starts with having a clear understanding of your features. This, of course, involves an understanding of your app’s functionality, and its use cases, and usability needs. This is so, because as we’ve just learned, not all features make sense to work offline.

In determining if an app, or a subset of its features, makes sense to continue functioning when a user goes offline a quick checklist can determine this.

  • How much of your app can function without regular API communication
  • How long can the information on the user’s local install go without needing to be refreshed
  • Do users need to consistently communicate with others to get the most out of the app

In Closing

Simple question, complicated answer. Offline usage of an app isn’t an easy thing to figure out. In a world where most people spend the majority of their day glued to their phone, having an app uptime of as close to 100% is the most desirable. Even if it isn’t the most realistic.

To be able to get as close to this as possible, proper graceful handling of all possible circumstances is important. For that to be possible, a big consideration is of course handling a user going offline. Though taking the time to fully think through app features and user stories an answer can be concluded on. The key here, of course, is to take the time.