I’ve written about the trouble with using mobile apps in dead zones before, so I’m happy to see that I’m not the only one thinking about the problem. Hoodie wants to design for offline first, and is starting a discussion project around the issue.
Offline reading is an obvious application. Most eBook readers handle that just fine, though it’s easy because you spend a lot of time in each book so it doesn’t need to predict what you’ll read next. It would be great if Feedly would sync new articles for offline reading. Heck, I’d like it if Chrome on Android would let me re-open recent pages when the connection dies.
Beyond reading, many actions can be handled offline too. Kindle will sync your notes and highlights. GMail will let you read, write, label, archive, delete, and even send messages without a network connection. All your actions are queued up for the next sync.
There’s no reason this approach can’t be taken with other communications apps for messages that don’t require an immediate response, even with services like Facebook and Twitter. Short notes of the “don’t forget to pick up milk” variety. Observations. Uploads to Dropbox. Photos going to Instagram or Flickr. Buffer would be perfect for this, since you’re not expecting the post to go out immediately in the first place. It shouldn’t give you an “Unable to buffer” error, it should just save it for later.
I’d like to be able to do work in a place where there’s no connection, have that work persist, and fire things off as I finish them instead of having to come back to all of them the next time I’m within range of a cell tower or a coffee shop with wifi. I’d also like to be able to post in the moment, hit “Send,” and move on with my life, instead of having to hang onto that extra context in my mind as I walk around.
I started writing this on an airplane about to take off. In the time between my outbound flight and return trip, United took advantage of new FCC rules to draft a new policy allowing passengers to continue using (if I can remember the phrasing) “lightweight personal electronic devices set in non-transmit mode.”
I did have to stop as a matter of practicality during the takeoff itself, and being in a window seat I spent a lot of the next few minutes staring out the window.
Something I found interesting on the way up is how similar open space and water look at night from far enough up when you’re near a city, especially if the city just stops…especially at a natural boundary like a range of hills. In both cases you have a brightly lit region next to completely dark area. It’s only when you can identify patterns like docks, or roads through the empty space, or occasional lighted areas (though they could be boats) that you can really tell.
If you’re low enough, you can sometimes see the reflections of lights in the water. That made for an interesting illusion on the flight in. I’m not sure which bridge it was across the San Francisco bay, but it’s lit by regularly spaced white lights underneath the roadway. For some reason it looked like the lights were moving along the bridge as I flew past it, like the pulses in a Mac progress bar.
Something else that struck me: most areas along the California coast, seen at night, appear as darkness with islands of light. Greater Los Angeles is light with islands of darkness.
No wonder I can hardly see any stars these days.
I believe that any network-aware mobile app should assume network access will be spotty. People step into elevators, ride buses through tunnels, attend large events where they’re competing with thousands of other phones…there are all kinds of reasons you can lose your connection.
That’s why I like the sync approach taken by Gmail on Android. Read, write, label, file, reply…pretty much anything can be done without a connection, and it’ll push your changes as soon as you get back into range of a signal. That’s also why I’m more likely to skim Twitter than Facebook while waiting for the elevator at work – Ubersocial has already synced recent tweets for me to read, but Facebook usually can’t even load until the doors open and I lose all access.
Right now, though, I’m looking for an offline posting app. I’m planning for Long Beach Comic Con next month, and I know from experience that T-Mobile has no signal at all on the main floor of the convention center. I’d like to be able to tap out a tweet when I think of it, hit send, and have it queue up the post until the next time I make my way up the escalator to the lobby. (Ubersocial used to do this, but doesn’t seem to anymore.)
What I’d really like to do, though, is upload photos offline to Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr. It’s not a huge deal, since I can still post when I surface for lunch or coffee — that’s when the photos would actually go out after all — but if you’re going to make a point of posting things in the moment, it helps if you don’t have to hold that moment in your mind so long that it distracts you from experiencing the next one.
Cloud device in area w/ flaky connection really underscores the importance of offline sync