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Mobile and “Offline versus Online”

For fun, I just typed in on my Samsung Galaxy S4. You can watch the browser translate that request to the version of the URL so that you get a mobile specific version of the page. Was it instantaneous…not really, earth shattering…definitely not but did it work…yes. The scenario we are talking about here is an example of a connected mobile web scenario, a scenario targeted at folks who would like to download the latest content from the or from any other site. In this example, the scenario is clearly illustrative of the online use case and is the browser based connected scenario of the past 10-15 years.

As I cross the country as SAP Canada’s National Architect for Mobility, a common area of discussion is connected versus disconnected. To most customers, the question implies how will their application react when there is no internet connectivity (no LTE, no WIFI, no hotspot…say it isn’t so). Some customers will say things like “we are just going with a mobile web site” or “our employees/customers will always have a connection” or “we do not have to worry about offline”. Every customer is different and customers across Canada are starting to get their ideas and strategies around mobile organized. However, prior to these ideas getting fully organized and cemented let me suggest the following or as I tell my customers, I’m going to throw a few ideas into the air and you grab the ones you like.

  1. 1) Customers/partners tackling mobility tend to start with the technical requirements and not the user experience. Before you can make a decision on whether or not to support a truly offline experience, you need to decide on the type of user experience you want to deliver. The instant you decide you will not support offline you become limited in terms of your design options. If you have kids, you have probably heard the phrase “Dad, why is the internet so slow”. The internet and its responsiveness or lack thereof is a crucial element of design that must be incorporated into the end goal. Building a mobile application with a world class UX is not very valuable if each screen transition takes 3,4 or 5 seconds. Start with the “What” and finish with the “How”…not vice versa.
  2. 2) Going offline does not only imply you have customers/employees that will be in an area of no coverage. In my mind, having an application that can operate without a network connection is one way that mobile applications can become one step closer to a superior customer experience.
  3. 3) The internet is great, except for when it isn’t. Does everyone really find the request/response nature of the internet amazing…3-4 seconds for a basic web page as evidenced above is not really what I have in mind when I think about a truly amazing, consumer grade application that everyone wants to use…think Angry Birds…do you really think every time you push a button in that game it does a call over the internet….of course it doesn’t. I’m sure behind the covers, it is doing the occasional update, logging of high score but the core functionality is available offline which is why I can play it on the plane Majority of functions work offine, minority work online…now that’s a model to build upon.
  4. 4) The decision for offline versus online needs to go hand in hand for the type of process being mobilized. Every time you perform a local operation and avoid network traffic, I am a happy user because you will be delivering sub-second responses. Think about the following processes and how you would classify them compared to me:
    1. Stock Market Ticker -> Online
    2. Grocery Shopping List -> Offline
    3. Work Order Management -> Offline
    4. Priority Work Orders -> Online
    5. eBanking -> Online
    6. Workflow Scenarios -> Offline/Online
    7. Inventory Management -> Offline/Online

Having made these broad based statements, there are a bunch of other factors and tradeoffs to be considered that are a huge component of any enterprise wide mobility strategy. TCO, time to value, user adoption, ease of use, flexibility, speed of change, etc… All of these factors need to be considered and have an impact on how a particular application could and should be delivered. At the end of the day, certain industries and segments will benefit more from offline than others and this will be the subject of my next blog.

Mobile is one of my passions as I have been doing it on and off for a long time and would love to hear from you. Comment, email, text me, tweet me or come see me at GTEC this year in Ottawa on October 9th as I speak about the opportunities for mobile in government.


Mobile Guy at SAP Canada