Your Fancy Android App Needs an Offline Mode

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You’ve done your user-centered design, you’ve assessed your constituents, and you’ve determined that an Android application is the best way to deliver your intervention, using technology. Congratulations!
Yet before you hire the Android development team in celebration, make sure your fancy application is designed to be used fully offline too.
All Weather is Local
With all the talk about cloud-based services for development, and all the promise of Android applications that leverage big data and cloud infrastructure, the reality in almost every country is that all weather is extremely local.
Many areas will have enough Internet bandwidth to handle Android applications that need an always-on connection, yet most rural and underserved areas, will not – by definition. Therefore, you need an offline mode to be effective.
Stop Denying Your Constituents
Recently, I worked with an organization that had an amazing Android application. It is a cutting edge ICTforAg app that has real, demonstrated impact with farmers – when it works.
However, its current incarnation requires Internet connectivity to operate, which is a rarity in rural agricultural areas. Therefore, constituents constantly complained that the tool was inaccessible in farmers’ fields.
The organization was hesitant to make an offline version because they felt that it would allow for outdated versions and inaccurate advice, as not everyone would update their application with each release. Yet, the greater problem was a lack of usage of the current tool, regardless of its accuracy, since it required rare and often totally inaccessible Internet connectivity.
Go Offline Any Way You Can
That organization, and others, is exploring the use of coded SMS as a way to relay data back to a server and get analyzed results when only basic mobile connectivity is available. Yet even requiring coded SMS is often asking too much. SMS can get garbled, delayed, and lost, especially in low-bandwidth environments.
A truly effective ICT4D application does not require Internet connectivity. It should be able to operate offline with a solid feature set, which is enhanced when online, not a useless brick without 4G or WiFi.