One of the biggest problems with using the Internet for crucial day-to-day applications is when you can’t get connected. On a plane, at a WiFi hotspot you don’t really trust, or even in a building with poor data network reception for your phone.
For most desktop applications the answer is simple… your data lives locally and you work with it there not rely on connectivity, and then sync what you need to. At MIX this year for instance we demonstrated a prototype of a Cirque du Soleil application that demonstrated exactly that.
For web applications it’s a little harder as they run inside the browser sandbox, and for mobile web applications… well, logic dictates that should be even harder.
Well… turns out it’s not that hard for developers to build an off-line version of their site that’s able to cache data locally and the really interesting thing for me was discovering how well it works on Windows Mobile. That solution is Google Gears.
I use Buxfer to try and make sense of my personal finances (a pretty major challenge). The reason I’m leaning more to this solution rather than, say, Mint (an otherwise excellent solution) is that they let me take my data offline and access it on my Windows Mobile phone.
I think it’s pretty impressive that Windows Mobile is the first supported phone platform and a testament to how popular it is as a data access device.
Gears is only a 0.2 release so there’s probably lots of things that will be added over time. My wishlist for those additions is pretty simple:
- Ability to synchronize changes back to the web (MS SQL Sync Framework supports this
- Ability to auto synchronize – as a user I have to manually choose to go “offline”… if I don’t do that before disconnecting then I don’t have the latest copy of the data. It would be great if a Gears enabled app could detect it was running on an authorized device and in the background update me and then if I try to return to the site in (say) Flight mode it automatically switches to offline mode.
Native apps will always have a richer interface and more powerful capabilities because they operate outside the browser sandbox, they have access to the hardware (eg camera) and features like the network stack directly so they are ideal for more sophisticated users. But for simple look-up applications like mobile versions of Buxfer or Zoho this is a great solution