Boost Your Mobile Site’s Appeal: Offline Storage

October 11th, 2011 by

To close out our five part series on how to add features that maximize a mobile site’s appeal, let’s explore a relatively new mobile technology — offline storage. Unlike the first four features in this series (location functionality, a whiz-bang UI, a touch-optimized UI, social networking) offline storage is largely untapped, primarily because it is still not widely supported by the browsers. But, as support for offline storage and other sophisticated features becomes more widespread, we are bound to see more and more mobile web apps and sites that utilize this important functionality. In the meantime, let’s take a look at some innovative examples that are utilizing offline storage today.

The Financial Times HTML5 web app for iPhone or Android smartphones has received a lot of well-deserved fanfare for its content-rich, app-like UX that was built with HTML5. More than 700,000 people use the Financial Times’ web-based mobile app, making it more popular than the version previously sold in Apple’s App Store. If you haven’t checked it out yet, go to FT.com on your iPhone or Android device — you will be amazed at how smooth and seamless the content loads from page to page. This is largely enabled by storing the content in your phone’s cache. As you load the home page on your phone, you are caching the contents of that page, as well as the content of several other pages into your mobile device memory. The result: as you navigate through the site, the stored content loads up instantaneously — as fast as on a native app.

Along with improving the user experience when data connection is up, offline storage can also enhance the user experience when data connection is lost. One of the most natural use-cases here would be shopping. Malls and shopping complexes are known for having the worst wireless coverage. Let’s consider a customer who went into a big box because she found a 30% off coupon on the retailer mobile site. But, the moment the greeter says ‘hello’, she lost her data coverage. How does she look up the coupon? If the site used offline storage to place the coupon in the device’s cache, she could effortlessly retrieve it from the devices local storage and happily complete the purchase.

For planned or expected wireless coverage interruptions, like on an airplane, offline storage also offers interesting possibilities. For example, the Gmail mobile web app allows you to download your most recent messages (read and unread) while online and then view, read and draft replies while offline. Once service is returned, the information is synced back with the Gmail servers and everything is updated.

While it appears that media, shopping and utility services could benefit the most from adding offline storage to their mobile web offerings, companies from other verticals can benefit too. Basically, if you want your users to view your mobile web content easily or you’d like to give them access to the content when they go from “four bars” to none, then offline storage is something you should think about.

To ensure you’re offering an optimal user experience with offline storage functionality, consider the following:

  • Limit the size of website components that browsers need to download
  • Thoroughly test — remember, not all browsers are created equal, and so, not all of them support HTML5
  • If appropriate, add instructions for caching or retrieving stored data

Offline storage is an emerging, cutting edge technology, and there are plenty of pros and a few cons that come with it. The cons will fade away as browser support for HTML5 becomes mainstream, so start having internal conversations about how local storage can be implemented into your product and service offering. Your competitors will surely capitalize on in the near future. Why not beat them to it?

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