Somewhere along the way to smartphone ubiquity and tablet trendiness, offline became an unsavory word. Not as repugnant as dial-up or spam, but certainly not magnanimous like 3G. Social networks, web searches and general connectivity became more important than offline activities like word processing and Minesweep. The short-lived popularity of netbooks is a testament to the notion that if you’re not connected, you might as well turn your [insert device] off.
But what if you’re in a cafe that has no wireless? What if your Aunt Elsie’s house is out of range of your 3G network? Unless you had the foresight to download your work beforehand, such situations serve as flashbacks to pre-2008 computing. The only difference is that now your choice of activities is even more limited as offline has been left to the wayside by many digital innovators.
One of the tech behemoths that started this shift was Google: It introduced free programs like Gmail and Google Docs much to the chagrin of software developers. This May the company released its own netbook, the Chromebook, which seemed to solidify its commitment to the online occult.
You can imagine my surprise when I learned that Google was rolling out an offline version of Gmail. The application, which can be downloaded through the Chrome Web Store, is similar to its tablet version in appearance and functionality. As a dumbphone user who loves frequenting wifi-free cafes with my laptop, the ability to read, respond and sort through old e-mails without a connection is a major boon. Traditional mail servers like Outlook, Thunderbird and Apple Mail have worked offline for years, but their mobility limitations, screwy settings and bland appearance kept them from reaching Gmail rock star status.
Google announced that it plans to extend this capability to Google Calendars and Docs as well— the latter of which will prove tricky given its collaborative nature. And if the search-engine-turned-tech-giant decrees “offline” to be an option for the 3G world, others may soon follow in its path.
— Nicole Duncan