Offline First is Inevitable

by Steven Trevathan

Here’s what I believe: in the future, every piece of software we experience is going to be offline capable. If not, someone will have provided a tool for storing it offline for you (Kolibri, Pocket, etc). What makes this a reality is already well underway.

People aren’t suddenly waking up with the realization that the software they use should work offline. What’s actually happening is that the most popular software services they use are providing them with landmark functionality to make their offline experience their own (Netflix, Google Docs, Twitter Lite, etc.), and the users of these services don’t care if the app is native, built with Electron, or is a Progressive Web App. They don’t see the contours of the technologies used like we, the makers, do. Instead, they see it in the context of a world where their most commonly used services have set their expectations of products higher.

I doubt we’ll see all that much more awareness of the difference between a web and a native app as software (and code) literacy continues to rise, and I don’t think anyone will care. Were selecting a software product the same as choosing the materials and style of the table someone wants as a center of activity in their home, they might. But even then, the craftsperson tends to care more about these nuances.

At the same time that expectations are changing to assume offline use, we have a growing web of devices that need to work without constant connection. The IoT boom has created a lot of problems, but those products have also pushed a core expectation that they must work in isolation from a connection to the wider web. The web then becomes a progressive enhancement, and is not the platform upon which the product experience is delivered.

We may not be able to use every piece of technology when there is a clear connective limitation in grabbing data we use an app for, but I believe both our “offline” reach (through technologies like IPFS) and our dependence on offline usable software will greatly increase.