5 collaboration apps you can use without an internet connection

Learn how to edit text, draw, chat, transfer files, and share social posts with apps that support local and peer-to-peer network connections.

Image: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

Many collaboration apps appropriately handle two network conditions: Online or offline. Google Docs, for example, lets multiple people edit simultaneously online. Additionally, people may choose to edit offline, then rely on the system to sync all edits when re-connected to the internet. Many modern cloud collaboration apps work similarly and allow collaboration defined only in the context of connection to a software maker’s systems over the internet: Are you connected or not?

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There’s also a third network condition: A local network. If you ever have sent a photo, file, or a link to a person nearby–with Apple’s AirDrop (on iOS or macOS), Microsoft’s Windows Nearby Sharing, or Google’s Android Nearby Share–you’ve used local networking. These systems let you transfer data from one device to another (over Wi-Fi, Ethernet, or Bluetooth), without the need for an internet connection.

The following five apps push beyond standard internet-centric network designs. These apps give us a glimpse of a potential world where apps let us collaborate over local networks, without the need for an internet connection. Appealingly, many of these apps not only support local network collaboration, but also work with an internet connection, when available or desired.

SEE: Top cloud providers in 2020: AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, hybrid, SaaS players (TechRepublic)

Chat and file transfer

Underpass offers peer-to-peer encrypted file transfer and chat for macOS ($3.99 one-time purchase) and iOS ($1.99 one-time purchase) devices. Choose to start either a Local Area Network or Internet chat, specify a password that both you and your chat partner will enter and use, then chat. Enter text to chat, or you also may paste a file (Figure A).

Figure A

Screenshots from iPhone, showing Local Area Network (LAN) option (left), chat configuration settings (middle), and text and an image in chat (right).

On iOS (shown here) Underpass supports (left) local or internet device-to-device connections for chat and file transfer. Add a password (middle) to secure your chat. Paste a picture or file (right) into the chat box to share it.

For more on other chat apps that work without an internet connection, such as Berkanan, check out: 3 emergency communications solutions to implement now.

Multi-platform file transfer

Feem relies on local Wi-Fi to transfer files between Feem apps on five different platforms: Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, and Linux. The app attempts to auto-detect other devices running Feem (Figure B), but if your Wi-Fi router blocks the needed ports, you may switch to Wi-Fi direct on Android or Windows devices, then share the generated password to let other people connect directly to your device. Feem may be used for free, or you may upgrade for $4.99 per year to remove ads and access additional settings.

Figure B

Android phone screenshots: (left) Three devices (randomly named Loud Gazelle, Terrible Nightingale, and Selfish Mockingbird); (middle) item sharing options, with photos displayed; (right) shared chat with a screenshot from TechRepublic sent.

Feem (on Android) auto-detects other local devices running Feem (left). Select from a range of files, photos, audio, or apps to send (middle) along with chat (right).

Edit text and tables

For macOS, iPhone, and iPad devices, Collabio lets you create and collaborate on files the app calls Text And Tables. When you start to share a file, the app displays a four digit code (Figure C), which you’ll need to share with your collaborators. You can tell them the code–or share it with them with a local chat app. People may edit your shared file as long as you keep the app open and sharing allowed. Collabio costs $11.99 per month or $69.99 per year in the App Store.

Figure C

Three screenshots (iPhone): (left) folders and file list shown, with option to add new, (middle) 1903 passcode displayed to activate sharing, (right) Text, with indicator "iPad" in middle of new word to show real-time collaboration.

Collabio (on iOS, shown), lets you open text and tables (left), share locally with a passcode (middle), then edit together in real time (right).

Draw together

Inko supports collaborative drawing for people across iPad, iPhone (Figure D), and macOS devices with a subscription to the Nearby Plan ($9.99 per year). An upgrade to the Remote plan ($29.99 per year) enables internet collaboration. There’s an Apple TV app as well. The maximum number of devices for peer-to-peer drawing is eight, but increases to 12 when devices are all connected to a Wi-Fi access point.

Figure D

Three screenshots from iPhone: (left) initial invitation, where detected devices may be added to your group, (middle) screen with line being drawn with device name indicated, e.g., "iPad", and (right) customizable settings to change display size and orientation.

The collaborative drawing app, Inko (shown on iOS), can detect nearby iOS devices you may choose to add to your group (left). The display indicates the person drawing (middle), with various adjustments and settings also available (right).

Synced social

Manyverse, still in beta with apps available for Android (Google Play or F-Droid) and iOS (iPhone or iPad) currently, offers a decentralized “off the grid” social network. Essentially, it’s a free, open source app that lets you create posts, with images, that can be shared and synced via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or the internet with other people’s devices (Figure E). Based on Secure Scuttlebutt (SSB), Manyverse also is intended to interoperate with other apps that support the SSB protocol.

Figure E

Three screenshots from Manyverse on Android: (left) introduction screen about support for local networks, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, (middle) dislay of connection options: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Internet peer-to-peer, and Internet server, and (right) blank page ready for a message/post to be entered.

Manyverse (shown here on Android) offers a variety of ways, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (left) to sync public and private messages (middle) with colleagues you select. A standard new message lets you add text, images, and even a caution warning (right).

Learn or explore more?

Beyond the above apps, there’s a whole community of people exploring how software might help us collaborate in non-server or non-cloud centric ways. Search Twitter for terms such as #OfflineFirst or #LocalFirst to connect with people developing apps that work in a variety of network connection scenarios. Or, read “Local-first software: You own your data, in spite of the cloud,” for a useful, in-depth perspective on these issues. In the long-term, decentralized apps, often called “dapps”, are worth consideration, but in my experience the current generation of dapps are not yet usable without significant technical configuration or knowledge.

What apps do you recommend for local network, no-internet-required collaboration? Have you used or built apps that let you work with colleagues over local Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections? Let me know what you think of the potential for #OfflineFirst or #LocalFirst apps, either with a comment below or on Twitter (@awolber).

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