Offline in a connected world

Scot McKnealy, the former CEO of Sun Microsystems, once proclaimed that the network is the computer. It is true that without a network, the apps we all rely on to manage our busy lives would be pretty useless. Hardly any software today is developed as a standalone application, requiring no internet connectivity. Even for those applications that are installed locally and use local resources, developers tend to use cloud-based user authentication, which, unsurprisingly, requires an internet connection.

Architecturally, it is far more efficient and elegant, to pull in external microservices, than attempt to build in every piece of functionality an application requires. Card payments and mapping are two such examples: it makes little sense to host such services in-house.

Nevertheless, once an IT decision maker chooses to go down the path of developing a networked application, wherever that application is deployed then requires a reliable network connection.

This is easier said than done. The 2021 Connected Nation report from Ofcom shows that 123,000 homes and businesses (0.4%) are still without access to a decent broadband connection. Anyone travelling around the country will see their internet connection regularly drop as their mobile devices fail to connect to a nearby cellular tower.

Loss of service

Such connectivity failures can make an application utterly unusable. If someone cannot login, due to a lack of connectivity, the application developer has failed to get the user past the first hurdle. It should never be the case that an application deployed on a mobile device is developed only to work when there is 100% internet reliability.

Even if there is good mobile internet coverage, when too many people try to connect simultaneously, cell towers can quickly become overloaded.

Imagine the situation where an e-ticket you’ve purchased in advance cannot load onto your smartphone, because there are too many people already connected to the network. As a customer, this lack of connectivity may mean you are denied access to a concert or sports event or prevented from getting through the barrier at a railway station – in other words, a poor customer experience. Anecdotally, people tend to rely on old school paper print-outs, to get around these things, although some have figured out how to use the e-wallets on their smartphones, or print as a PDF to the Downloads folder and hope that works.

Remember the Covid pass and how people printed these off, rather than rely on having a reliable connection at the destination airport they were flying into?

While we are not advocating printing out QR codes and e-tickets to workaround connectivity issues, if the network truly is the computer, it is imperative that applications are usable offline.

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Data Management