The internet is both liberating and constricting, as we have grown accustomed to its conveniences but still find ourselves at the mercy of mobile data packages or inconsistent wireless signals. While we crave constant connectivity, the reality of internet connections often falls well below our expectations. We now find ourselves pushing forward into the post-internet era without waiting for connectivity to be perfected, thanks to the emergence of offline functionality for many activities that once depended heavily on a network connection. We’re set to leave the need for constant connectivity as we know it behind in the years to come.

Offline functionality might be considered an acknowledgment by application developers, service providers, and content providers that a good internet connection can’t be guaranteed. Even though 87 percent of Americans are connected to the internet, the consistency and quality of those connections vary greatly; whether you live in a part of the U.S. with poor broadband access, or you’re simply trying to check emails on the subway.

That’s part of the reason why the ability to bypass internet connectivity in order to stay connected is increasingly appealing. Additionally, capabilities such as data caching, which stores frequently accessed data for offline retrieval, are opening users’ eyes to the possibility of consuming Web content even without internet access. Ultimately, consumers are becoming accustomed to an even greater level of convenience as offline layers continue to expand.

Don’t Stop the Music: Offline Streaming Media

Consumers love streaming media services that allow them to access catalogs of music, TV shows, and movies. These media files also consume a lot of bandwidth, which, on slow internet connections, can have frustrating effects like constant buffering. Mobile data is also a challenge. Given that most wireless carriers implement strict data caps, it’s no wonder why so many smartphone users become much stingier about their Netflix consumption on-the-go toward the end of the billing month.

At the same time, some streaming media providers are introducing ways for consumers to keep enjoying content even when they’re not online. Spotify is perhaps the most prominent example, as the streaming music service allows its premium subscribers to create and designate an offline playlist that they can access anywhere, without downloading individual music files onto their device. Amazon also allows subscribers of its Prime digital video service to download videos for offline viewing – though there’s a limit to how long a video can be saved locally.

Will more service providers consider offline streaming? It depends – Netflix has said it won’t (though it reportedly already uses the data caching technology that could enable offline viewing), but other service providers might decide to offer offline options to make consumers’ lives easier in the absence of stronger or more consistent internet connections.

In the Workplace: Offline Productivity and File Sharing Apps

Even as more work applications move to the cloud – and thus require a steady internet connection – app developers recognize that changes in work habits enable employees to work from anywhere. As a result, more companies are devising features and apps that allow workers to access important files, even if they’re trying to catch up on tasks during a cross-country flight.

When developing the Chromebook, a lightweight laptop that runs primarily cloud-based apps, Google made sure to include offline features so users could still check email, calendars, and other services offline. The productivity tip app Evernote also lets users store offline notebooks and later sync new information back to the cloud.

File sharing is another function that, when taken offline, supports today’s untethered work environment. The emerging development of unique transportation layers allows users to share files directly between mobile devices without having to depend on an unreliable internet connection.

Mobile messaging, too, can include an offline component to ensure that workers can stay in touch without having to rely on an internet connection. Mesh networking technology has enabled chat vendors to roll out innovative peer-to-peer messaging capabilities, allowing workers to communicate even when they’re stuck on the subway or running up against their monthly data limit.

Freedom from the Network Means Better Connections

Consumers today are tied to their devices, and along with that comes an expectation of constant connectivity, but it’s an impractical expectation. Despite efforts to provide web services to more of the developing world, quality internet access in every corner of the globe is still – at the moment – more of a dream than a reality. Ultimately, there may always be scenarios in which connecting to a network will be either impractical or impossible. That’s why technology providers must leap ahead of the connectivity challenge and focus on providing more practical offline layers to enable new opportunities for communication, entertainment, and productivity. Service providers and application developers need to think creatively about the ways in which our offline and online worlds cross, and provide solutions that empower consumer convenience and connectivity.