for Offline

While connectivity and mobile coverage are improving rapidly every day, millions of people around the world still live outside the range of mobile internet networks.

Millions more bounce in and out of network connectivity when on the go. Wi-Fi access may also be scarce or the cost of mobile data prohibitive. In Uganda, for example, internet access can cost nearly 11% of monthly expenses. People living in areas with high-priced networks regularly turn off mobile data to control costs. From our research, we see that people around the world regularly go offline, whether in Lagos or Los Angeles, intentionally or unintentionally.

During our many immersion travels in NBU countries, we were able to experience firsthand the pain many NBUs face when contending with unreliable or unavailable internet while using devices and apps. (See Immersion). This led us to develop a set of material guidelines and strategies to help the ecosystem build apps that function seamlessly in intermittent and offline states so that the NBUs can continue to tap the benefits of the internet without needing near-constant connectivity.

Clearly indicate offline functionality.

Offline design is not standardized across mobile products, but there are ways that can help people understand a product’s offline capabilities. For example, designers should indicate when someone can use an app or website offline by displaying the offline pin icon paired with the word “offline.”

Allow downloading for future offline use.

Displaying the file size will also help users determine whether they want to spend that amount of data on a single download and if they have the available storage. Indicate content that can be downloaded for future offline use by displaying the download icon paired with the label “download” and the size of the file.

Offline states offer opportunities for delight.

This means to reimagine the offline state as an opportunity for innovation rather than an obstacle. Consider common use cases in which someone could lose internet connection and still make the most of the product. For example, an app could help a busy parent search for a recipe on their way to the market. Or help a new college student feel a little closer to home by allowing them to view photos of friends and family — even without a steady internet connection.

Based on our research and insights, we have developed offline capabilities for some of our most popular apps.

Google Maps, for example, now allows users to download an area of the world and access navigations and turn-by-turn voice directions from point to point within that area, all without the need for an active connection. Our Classroom app allows students to work on assignments offline, enabling them to continue their education even without internet connectivity in select areas, and the YouTube app enables users to download certain videos to play offline, ensuring users who lack a reliable internet can enjoy entertainment wherever they are.

In addition to offline modes, we’ve also developed “lite” versions of Search and Chrome to help the NBUs even better manage data consumption on their phones. Google Go, for instance, is a light and fast search app that enables users to get answers quickly and reliably, even on slow connections and smartphones with low memory.

Because the field of offline is still new, there is plenty of room for innovation and creativity. Offline states have become essential components of digital experiences, and if we look at them the right way, they don’t have to be limiting and can even become unique, delightful experiences.


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