Google SDKs Enable iOS, Android Mobile Apps to Work Offline

Google's Mobile Offline capability gives application developers a way to persist synchronized data on disk so it is immediately available when the app starts.

Google mobile offline capacity

Developers of mobile applications for iOS and Android platforms have a new option for enabling offline support for their applications.

Google, on May 29, released a Mobile Offline software development kit (SDK) for both platforms that it says will help developers build applications that work smoothly even when not connected to the Internet.

The Mobile Offline capability is based on a mobile cloud service from Google's acquisition of Firebase last October. It is designed to give developers a way to overcome the limitations of traditional programming approaches in a mobile context, wrote Andy Tzou, product marketing manager for Google Cloud Platform, in a blog May 29.

Having offline capability in areas where network connections are spotty or nonexistent—such as on the subway, in airplanes and in dead zones—can make a huge difference in overall experience when using a mobile application. "Building a seamless user experience under these conditions can be challenging, while users increasingly expect their apps to work offline," Tzou said.

Ensuring uninterrupted application performance even when an Internet connection is disrupted can be challenging, added Jonny Dimond, core developer at Firebase.

The new iOS and Android SDKs will give application developers a way to persist synchronized data on disk so it is immediately available when the application starts, Dimond said.

The SDKs also allow developers to specify data that needs to be prefetched from the application server and kept updated on the disk so it will always be available if needed in an offline mode. Developers only require a single line of code to enable disk persistence in their applications and a single line of code for the data synchronization capability as well, he said.

The Firebase database has been designed from the ground up keeping the offline user in mind, Dimond stated.

"All read and write operations happen against a local, on-device version of your database first. Then, data is pushed and pulled from our servers behind the scenes," he said.

The approach has allowed Firebase to overcome some of the network latency issues associated with the typical request/response methods that are used to move data between a client and server system in a mobile setting, Dimond said.

Enabling offline support for mobile applications appears to be a growing trend among major technology vendors. Google itself offers an offline capability for some applications, like Google Maps, for instance.

Last December, Microsoft announced an offline, managed client SDK for developers of iOS and Android mobile applications. Like the Google/Firebase SDK, Microsoft's Mobile Offline capability is designed to let developers boost application responsiveness by caching server data locally on the device and then syncing data when network connectivity becomes available again. Again, similar to the Google approach, Microsoft's SDK is designed to let users work normally when their mobile device loses local connectivity.

Since at least May of last year, Parse, a company owned by Facebook, has been making available an Android SDK called DataStore that is designed to help mobile application developers enable offline support in their products in similar fashion to what Google and Firebase have started offering.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.