Wifi and cell coverage is not ubiquitous yet
While Verizon and T-Mobile make it seem like internet connectivity is literally everywhere, it’s not.
Take a look at this T-Mobile nationwide coverage map for the USA. They make it seem like cell coverage blankets the entire USA, except for some tiny white blotches.
But drill down into a particular area and it’s not what it seems. For example, lets drill down into the Tennessee-North Carolina-Georgia region. Here’s the same map zoomed into that area:
Those white blotches are pretty big. Some of those white blotches are mountains and lakes, but still, there are dead zones everywhere.
And that doesn’t account for zones where a cell signal can’t penetrate, like basements, buildings with really thick walls, interior spaces deep inside a structure, remote valleys where the signal is already weak, lakefront properties on the edge of a dead zone, and so forth.
Point is, if you do field work, chances are pretty good that you will at least occasionally work in a zone with either a really shitty 4G or (god forbid) a 3G signal, or no signal at all. And even if you have 1 or 2 bars in 4G, try uploading a full resolution 3MB photo with that kind of signal. It will take a long time, and probably several attempts.
Offline mode to the rescue
Some (not all) modern software tools have an offline mode. That includes XForms. Here’s how it works in XForms.
- Before you go into a known or suspected area of shitty or no cell coverage, tap on the slideout menu and then on “Sync Offline Data”. Tapping on that menu item triggers the device to issue a request to the server to send it all the items it needs in order to run in offline mode. This includes the available form templates and any reference lists that populate listboxes on those form templates. Once you do that, you will see a “Please wait…” modal message while it does its thing. Depending on your internet connection and number of form templates, this could take up to 30 seconds or so to complete. Once it completes the download, you will see a green message at the bottom of the screen indicating that data synchronization is complete.
- Here’s a screenshot illustrating where the “Sync Offline Data” menu is
- When you are in the area of crappy or no cell coverage, flip the “Offline Mode” switch to on to put the app into offline mode.
- Complete your forms and submit them as usual. You will see a little tag on the top left of your form labeled “Offline”. This denotes that that particular form was submitted into the system while in offline mode. It will look like the following screenshot.
- When you are done working in the remote area and are back in an area with good cell coverage and/or wi-fi, tap on the slideout menu and flip the “Offline Mode” switch back to “off”. When you do this, the system will alert you with a message similar to this: “You have unsaved forms. You are now online. Would you like to sync your unsaved data?” Tap on yes, and the system synchronizes the offline forms on your device to the server. See below.
Simple sync, with more robust sync coming when needed…
XForms is being developed by the architect of Adesso, which for its time back in 2005 was the best synchronization engine around. It had bidirectional sync controls, 4 conflict resolution modes (keep both records, server replaces local, local replaces server, and ask the user during sync), highly granular user and user group permissions, and SQL filters that would let you control pretty much anything you wanted to control when it came to sync functions. Some of those ideas will eventually make their way into XForms if our current and/or future customers need such control. We have the knowledge and experience on our team to do that. But for now, simple sync works great for all use cases encountered thus far.
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