Offline-First: Key Ingredient for Mobile Business Apps


Ms. Neagu is a noted expert on data applications and XML technologies. Adriana was co-inventor of Microsoft Office InfoPath, and co-holds 4 InfoPath patents.

Offline is catching on

Offline is Catching On

Not long ago offline got little respect

Just a couple years ago the idea that mobile form business apps might need robust offline capabilities was not a widespread notion. As one blogger put it in a post titled “No connection? Big problem”:

Development teams don’t get it … yet.  I’ve talked to many development teams about this [offline] problem, but so many just shrug their shoulders. It’s easy to think connectivity issues “aren’t that bad” when you build and test your apps right at your desk….

As Forrester wrote in 2014 about “The Offline Mobile Challenge“:

Offline support will be a crucial consideration for nearly every future modern application. Unfortunately, our experience shows that offline support is the mobile app feature continually underscoped by developers and over-simplified by stakeholders.

Now awareness is dawning

As analyst Robert Desisto recounts on the Gartner blog in his January 2016 post “Mobile Offline: Back to the Future”:

Roughly 3 years ago I started receiving Gartner client inquires about CRM apps supporting mobile offline mode access for smartphones and tablets…. I first thought that these were just special case circumstances until the number of inquiries kept growing.

Results of a developer survey released by Bock & Company in January 2016 reflect the growing awareness of offline needs. Asked to identify and rank the critical requirements of the enterprise mobile apps they were developing, “work offline” ranked second highest among the ten requirements listed. Specifically, the top three responses were:

  1. Easy integration with backend database (94%)
  2. Work offline (79%)
  3. Develop the app once (78%)

At Formotus we’ve long been alert to the importance of working offline because it’s the #1 most-requested feature by our customers. We’ve surveyed prospective customers about their top requirement for years, and ‘offline is a must-have’ always ranks at the top:

Why Formotus
Offline is a must-have for many Formotus customers

The offline-first approach

Robust offline functionality is in the DNA of Formotus. Formotus CEO and co-founder Adriana Neagu wrote in a guest post on a Microsoft blog titled Paperless productivity, even offline:

Many of our customers need their workers to be fully productive, even when no data connection is available. Imagine you’re a global giant oil and gas company like Phillips Conoco or Royal Dutch Shell. In a company like this, you can have hundreds of employees in the field, conducting critical inspections of oil wells and earth movers around the world. Especially in this type of industry, those inspectors’ forms need to be mobile, and they need to be functional offline. The innovations that allowed us to provide these features have been our secret sauce since we started this business in 2005.

Cited in an article on ZDNet, Formotus VP Glen Furnas explains:

Why is the idea of working offline so often an afterthought in the mobility industry? In part, it’s because of how companies think about the mobile workforce. Traditional office workers are becoming increasingly mobile and location-independent — and that’s the mobile workforce that gets most of the attention. At Formotus we largely enable the ‘other mobile workforce’ whose work is not in an office but is mobile by nature: inspectors, service technicians, and others whose work is multi-location. This work was mobile before there were cell phones, and this workforce is for the most part still using paper and clipboards for the bulk of their data collection and workflow processes.

The Formotus Pro app: for truly robust offline

Our commitment to offline-first functionality is evident in the design of our flagship Formotus Pro app. This mobile form client app enables our customers to deploy their own sophisticated data collection forms to their users. Once deployed, these forms equip workers to remain productive without an Internet connection.

Things you can do offline with Formotus Pro:

  • Open new blank forms to initiate new projects
  • Switch among multiple drafts of multiple forms
  • Use advanced business logic: navigation, calculations, data validation
  • Query data cached locally from a previous online query
  • Submit to an outbox queue that syncs when online again