In the early days of mobile, a major consideration of every app and platform developer was the limited connectivity. The then-very-popular Java (and continues to be, but has been usurped in startups by Python, Ruby on Rails and even Node), in its version for small devices called Micro, even has special “m0des” called CLDC for Connection Limited Device Configuration, i.e. you should expect to have limited connectivity.
Then, with the advent first of GPRS (2G), then EDGE (2.5G), then 3G, then 3.5G, then 4G/LTE (where the border is opens up a can of worms), and the advent of cloud services, the expectation that a device will always be online, even a by-definition mobile device such as iPhone and Android devices.
Yet, despite the proliferation of high-speed mobile data networks, and free WiFi at every coffee shop and corner, sometimes you really are offline. This is especially true when moving around, for example walking in a city or driving a car. Which is why I find two developments encouraging, in their recognition that sometimes offline matters.
- Siri may be going offline. I understand Apple needed to license and use Nuance’s technology rapidly, technology which not only deploys easiest on servers, but actually works best when learning as it goes along. Yet the requirement that Siri have Internet connectivity to “Text my wife that I am stuck in traffic,” or “Play music the Beatles White Album,” to be a severe limitation. The time you are most likely to use Siri is while driving. At 65MPH, you are most at risk due to using your hands and looking down, but also least likely to have (g00d) connectivity, due to the nature of radiowaves and towers. Thus, early reports that Siri may be working soon in offline mode is encouraging.
- Google Maps can go offline. As in the car, as when walking down a street in San Francisco where you are lost but the local cell tower is overloaded or offline, maps are something that works well offline. This is why I often use the NeverLost built into my rental cars, even though Google Maps is materially better; this is why Garmin is still in business (although they must be getting more worried). It isn’t often that Google’s product managers completely miss something that their engineers get – actually, it isn’t often in most companies, since engineers are paid to deliver and thus think about what can be done, while product managers are paid to think about what should be done – but this may be one of those cases.
Until such time as wireless broadband connectivity is completely reliable and available everywhere and at every speed, offline is important. I am glad to see the largest players in the space taking it seriously. Aim for the clouds, but remember that real people stand on solid earth.