The New York Times’ Offline Strategy

The New York Times app has a clear offline strategy. This allows customers to use the app even when they are offline. For most companies, this is just an afterthought.

app-study-nytimes

Smartphones are not just being used for making phone calls or writing SMS anymore.

People use their smartphones for everything from entertainment to communication to work. Even though the world has gotten more and more connected, there are places and situations where connectivity is unstable, slow, expensive or just not possible. Think about underground tunnels on the way to work. However, you still need an internet connection for the majority of apps.

Fortunately, most apps do not need a real-time connection to the internet. Instead, they could download the data in advance, when you have an internet connection, and can be used in offline mode afterward.

One app that has built offline functionality well is the New York Times app. We’ve tested the app in offline and online mode and want to summarize the offline experience of the app in the following.

Background

First of all some technical information, these are the SDKs used by the New York Times app:

  • Localytics Profile
  • Localytics Analytics
  • Hockeyapp
  • Scorecard Research
  • Pubnub

Leveraging Offline for Conversions

Now let’s have a look into the New York Times app and how they manage the offline usage for subscribed users. Today, while most companies do not have an “offline strategy,” the New York Times has leveraged this opportunity to provide immense value to the subscriber, giving them control over when they engage with the app, irrespective of its connectivity. But if you don’t have a subscription, the advantages of the offline usage are not available for you.

Providing Functionality as an Option

It stands out that the New York Times doesn’t force the user to take advantage of the offline usable function. You don’t want to occupy your internal storage or you don’t have enough data left? No problem, just switch offline functionality off.

Enabling Customers to Tailor

The offline section allows you to manage how the app should work offline. By managing this, you decide what content is available offline for you. Having all content offline is possible.

Provide Consistent User Experience

User experience during online and offline connectivity is nearly the same. The app allows it to browse normally through the news feed.


Clearly Indicating when Content is Updated

If you are offline for a longer time, articles or the latest news might have changed or gotten updated. During your time offline, it’s not possible to download the latest changes. The app clearly indicates when the content was last updated.

New York Times Offline

Indicating Error Messages when Features are Unavailable:

The app clearly informs us when features like commenting on something are not available.

New York Times Offline

Suggested improvements:

Allow Commenting Offline

When I see an article I want to comment on, I want to do it immediately before I forget what I wanted to say or write.

Remove Functionality When Features Are Not Available

If an image is not downloaded, it constantly shows “loading” when clicking on it. Here it would be better to inform the user that there is no internet connection and that the picture is not available offline.

New York Times Offline

By letting the users wait, even though you know that it won’t work, you frustrate the user. UXCam, unlike most other tools, supports Offline and allows you to see how users use the app offline along with capturing what they do. UXCam analyzes offline sessions and helps you identify user frustration.

Conclusion

The New York Times app has a clear offline strategy allowing customers to use the app even when they are offline. This is something most companies have an afterthought.

Not to be usable offline might be okay at the very beginning, but it is a poor decision not to think about an offline strategy as soon as possible. Not being usable online when you get more users means a lot of lost revenue and a significant negative impact on your brand. Especially when you want to reach an international market which includes developing countries, an offline strategy is important to deliver a good user experience.

The user experience of the New York Times app offline and online is consistent, but there is some space for improvement. Particularly an indication that when images are not downloaded and the ability to write comments in offline mode (and publish them when being online again) would be great.

To analyze the user behavior, the New York Times uses tools like Localytics, which are similar to UXCam. To get a full picture of what your users do, it is important to use tools that are able to record offline by efficiently caching offline data. It should have been recorded when it happened, not when the data was received. Solutions like UXCam support this and further functionalities.

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