Microsoft wants to help Android, iOS and Windows apps run offline as well as online, offering a way to improve app responsiveness and functionality when network coverage is bad or non-existent.
In an age of always-connected smartphones, it might seem there is no need for apps with offline access -- but they still have several advantages, including better responsiveness and the ability to limit data charges by caching data on the device, according to Microsoft. The caching also lets applications continue to work when there is little or no network connectivity, the company said in a blog post on Thursday.
To help developers add offline access to their Android, iOS and Windows apps, Microsoft has announced the general availability of its cloud-based SDK for offline synchronization, which is part of the company's Azure Mobile Services back-end.
For now, the SDK works with Windows and apps developed using Xamarin's cross platform tools, which are used to develop native apps for Android, iOS, Mac OS and Windows. The SDK's support for platforms other than Windows will soon be expanded with dedicated versions for Apple's and Google's mobile OSes, Microsoft said.
This year has seen Microsoft become even more focused on supporting other OSes, including the release of Office for Apple's iPads and iPhones. Last month, the company also released a preview version for Android-based tablets.
When an app that uses Microsoft's SDK is in offline mode, users can still create and modify data, which will be saved locally. When the app is back online, it can synchronize local changes with the Mobile Services backend. There are also mechanisms in place to handle conflicts when two devices modify the same record without synching.
To help developers get started Microsoft has published a video explaining how the SDK works, and what it can be used for.
Microsoft's Azure Mobile Services can also be used to store data in the cloud, authenticate users, and send push notifications to an application. Developers can choose between three versions: Free, Basic and Standard. Basic costs from US$14.99 for 1.5 million API calls per month, while Standard costs from $139.99 for 15 million API calls per month, according to Microsoft's pricelist.
Azure Mobile Services is far from the only option developers have. Competing offerings include Google's Play Services and the Mobile SDKs from Amazon Web Services.
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