Some of the most useful mobile apps sync their data with cloud storage. Apps sync either with a custom-tailored cloud service (ex: Things and Klisto™) or using services such as Dropbox or iCloud. Cloud syncing is critical for users with multiple devices, but there are certain app features that are required to make this an ideal experience.
1. Automatic Syncing
An automatic sync should start on app launch, when returning to the app from multitasking, or after updating a data record. Customers cannot be expected to remember to sync. Forgetting to do so results in confusion from incomplete or stale data. Duplicates or conflicting updates may be entered if a user does not see the latest entries. This is especially important for multi-user solutions.
One of my favorite apps requires me to manually sync to Dropbox by clicking a button. Syncing at startup or app switch should be just as simple but is not supported. I have had more than one occasion where I wasn’t sure what happened to my latest entries, (“didn’t I already add that password?”), only to find them when I synced. This doesn’t happen often but when it does it is very frustrating.
2. Sync On Demand
There is something very reassuring about being able to click a button and know all your data is updated and in sync. Sometimes a user just wants to be sure. Without the means to sync manually, users are less confident: they feel they have less control of their data.
Whether manual or automatic, it is critical that all updates are synced when this takes place, by both downloading the latest changes from the cloud to the app, and uploading your changes from the app to the cloud.
3. Keep you informed
“When did I last sync? What is the progress of my current sync?” This is information the customer needs to know. A timestamp should be displayed, preferably on the same screen as the manual sync button. During a sync, the user needs to know what is happening.
The worst train rides I have experienced involved breakdowns where nobody told us what was happening for what felt like forever. Communication is vital to good service, and a cloud-enabled app is no exception.
Apps are not just for smartphones any more. Customers want to use their data on all their devices and platforms. The best products give you options, including tablet and desktop OS or web interfaces.
5. Just work
No worries! Users need to feel confident that the data they are looking at is the latest and is consistent. Data needs to be available, even when an internet connection is not. Uploads and downloads should be as fast as possible and let you continue working. Any conflicts or issues must be made known immediately.
Apps that do these five things well make syncing almost an afterthought. The technology does its job and users can keep working. Apps that struggle in these areas become a burden or concern, which will make customers hesitate to use them and look for alternatives.
What cloud features do you look for in your mobile apps? Please let us know in the comments section below.