The consumer electronics industry has spent the past 20 years making everything connect wirelessly to the Internet — from PCs to TVs, cameras and speakers.
This includes, of course, the most wireless of wireless devices, the ubiquitous smartphone.
Your average smartphone connects wirelessly in three ways: via mobile broadband, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth — all of which get faster, more reliable and more widely available all the time.
So why is there now a big trend in the industry to make apps work in places where no Internet connection is available?
A dream abandoned
Years ago, the dream was to blanket the world with universal connectivity. Entire cities would be blanketed with Wi-Fi. Continents would be dotted with cell towers. Geosynchronous satellites would provide fast Internet connectivity to everyone, everywhere.
Just look at the grandiose intentions of the Bill Gates-backed company Teledesic in the 1990s: "On day one of service, Teledesic will offer broadband telecommunications access for businesses, schools and individuals everywhere on the planet." Teledesic went out of business in 2002.
In recent years, reality has set in. We are nowhere near providing Internet connectivity everywhere. So now, companies are wisely starting to do the next best thing: Making their apps and services work offline.
Over the past month, the industry has flooded users with apps and services designed to work without an Internet connection.
Making the world safe for going offline
Google this week rolled out better offline support for its iOS and Android Google Maps apps. It enables you to choose an area and then tap a button to download the mapping data to your phone, saving it for later use. Then when you're out on the road, you can look at the map without going online. So you don't have to worry about getting lost if you're in a mobile broadband dead zone.
The Android version of Google Search has a new offline mode for the Google Now feature as well. Even without a connection, the Google Now cards will keep on coming.
The company has also been working hard to make its cloud-centric laptop platform, the Chromebook, as functional offline as possible. Google publishes a page listing all the things you can do with a Chromebook without an Internet connection — things like using email, adding appointments to the calendar and so on. Any day now, Chromebooks will have the ability to download and play TV shows and movies offline.
Facebook this month updated its iOS app with the killer feature du jour: an offline mode. The app now enables you to create posts without an Internet connection. They're uploaded automatically the next time you connect. A similar Android app upgrade is coming soon.
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