The two most well quoted predictions in the mobile device industry are:
1) 50% of American mobile users will own a smartphone by Christmas 2011
2) One in three of Americans will own a tablet PC by 2015
comScore statistics from June 2011 show that with only a few months left until Christmas, the amount of smartphones users is only at about 34%. And we’ll give prediction 2 at least a year or two before cross-examining, but note that as of June 2011 still only 8% of Americans own tablets.
But whether those predictions are met or not may not be as significant as the following statistics. 30% of Americans currently go online daily via a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet. 76.8 million Americans own smartphones, and that number is increasing at an average of 11% every three months. Tablet sales for 2011 are already double 2010 sales and there are now over 470,000 mobile apps available.
And with that I’ll add another prediction: If you (individually or as a company) and your device don’t already contribute to those percentages, you will soon. Especially if you want to keep pace with your industry and remain competitive, because chances are, unless your product is early 90s brick cellular phones, you’ll need to offer or utilize mobile capabilities to stay in business.
So for our purposes, let’s say you’re in the construction industry. How are your peers using mobile technology?
When it comes to smartphones, as IT professionals we stress that the device’s operating platform is as, if not more, important than the device itself. The platforms worth considering include Google Android, Apple iOS, RIM Blackberry, and Microsoft Windows Phone 7. A May 2011 ConstrucTech Magazine article claims that Blackberry and iOS devices are the most widely used within the construction industry specifically, with Android quickly gaining ground. A look at the wider U.S. mobile market in general shows Android leading with 40% mobile user market share compared to iOS’ 26%. We do still find a large number of our general contractor clients clinging to their Blackberry’s, due to familiarity or capabilities linked to company IT, but the growing mobile applications market seems to be winning Android and iOS converts by the minute.
It’s hard to recommend one platform over another, nor would that be beneficial to the wide variety of construction organizations with an even wider array of technological needs. But we can admit that we’ve been on the Apple bandwagon for years, but are also big fans of all the Google integration possible with Android. Between those two, it’s up to you to decide how you want your device to look and feel and the service provider and plan that make the most sense for your company and location.
As for tablets, iPads are still in the lead for individual consumers, and it’s hard to argue that they shouldn’t be. The camera features and wireless home sharing capabilities (controlling speakers, TVs, desktops etc. from your iPad) of the latest iOS 4.3 are pretty flashy and the hundreds of thousands of applications available for download can’t be matched by any other operating system. However, contenders do exist among the Amazon Tablet, Blackberry Playbook, and Samsung Galaxy Tab. Most of these can be outfitted to support Android applications, common applications such as Microsoft Office as well as custom software applications, and offer a more affordable and sometimes more compact (literally) tablet experience. Keep an eye out for a new tablet device and the new Nokia phones running Windows Phone 7 - we happen to believe they are going to make major in-roads with the mobile community. But, as for now, this candid blog post on the tablet trend in construction puts it as well as we could - “if you’ve got $500 laying around, you’ll need a damn good reason why you bought the Playbook...[and not the iPad]” And we can’t help but notice the amount of mobile capabilities and applications that are first offered on iPad and then later adapted for other operating systems
As for company-wide devices, many construction companies have placed tablets in the workplace to run certain applications and software and choose whichever device most affordably fits the software. As far back as 2009, Sundt Construction was using Motion F5 tablet PCs on the jobsite for project management. Today, contractors like L.P.R. are issuing out custom outfitted Galaxy Tabs in small numbers to test efficiency.
So now you have a “smartdevice” ready and willing to take you into the next decade of mobile information. Where to begin? How about with the mobile application market, where applications (similar to programs you install on a computer, like Microsoft Office or Google Chrome) can be downloaded and installed for immediate use on your mobile device.
The majority of apps range in price from Free to $14.99 and most require no licensing agreement, just the one time purchase fee. And many of the ones below are available for iOS as well as Android and BlackBerry and can be used for phone and tablet devices. We’ve compiled a list of download-ready applications from industry publications, tech review articles, and construction and IT industry peers.
Let’s start with the general organizational and business-related apps we most recommend for anyone calling themselves a “professional.” (Note: Not all are available across mobile platforms and devices, visit the related links for more information.)
Google Docs Mobile - Create, edit, upload and share your Google documents.
Documents to Go - View, edit and create Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files and attachments as well as view PDF files and synchronize files between your devices and computers.
FlipBoard - Compile and read an interactive collection of your favorite news, publication, and social media feeds.
GoToMeeting - Organize and attend online meetings from anywhere with anyone
Air Display - Use your mobile device as an extended monitor for your computer or laptop (most useful for tablets).
Evernote - Take note of everything big and small for categorization and follow-up.
DropBox - Stores all your files in a cloud where they can be retrieved from any device or by anyone you approve.
Kayak HD - Compare prices across booking sites and book all aspects of travel.
Instapaper - Save all those web pages and content you don’t have time to read, and access them later, even when you’re no longer connected to the Internet.
VNC viewer - Connect to any computer in the world and have remote access to all its contents on the go.
And here are specifically construction industry apps, useful across the board, to executives, project managers, estimators, engineers, architects, etc. for project, jobsite, and contact management. (Note: Again, not all apps are available across mobile platforms, visit the related links for more information.)
BuildCalc - All-purpose construction calculator for extensive and integrated estimates and calculations.
Spending Tracker Plus Track general business and personal expenses, material and equipment receipts, mileage, etc as incurred.
Vela Systems Field Manager - Manage jobsite issues, tasks, communications, safety checklists, employees, etc.
SmartBidNet - Allows general contractors to access and search all subcontractor and bid project details.
BuildSite Mobile - Search through thousands of construction materials, products and send message packages to members of the project team.
AutoCAD WS from Autodesk - Allows users to open drawings, sync files via the Web, and upload drawings directly from their AutoCAD software database, taking the entire BIM process mobile.
Navigator V8i by Bentley Systems - Allows dynamic navigation, viewing, and mark up of BIM models for panoramic review and collaboration.
SightSpace 3D- Allows mobile viewing of augmented reality and GoogleSketchup designs
ContractorTalk - Acces the forum that brings contractors together to share information, ask questions, and discuss trade and industry topics
CrewBlast - (Available soon) Sends instant mass text messages to all jobsite participants to broadcast information quickly.
For some more apps by trade check out this list. And this one from SoftwareReview.com.
Paperless project, contact, and jobsite management was made possible with the advent of the Internet and the growing mobile device and application market will only further enhance contractors’ abilities to get work done whether at their desk or not. Individual and company-wide efficiency can be achieved using mobile capabilities, but only for those who are aware of their options and willing to let technology take over tasks they may be used to doing manually. You’ll quickly find that application interfaces and functionalities are designed to be user-friendly and easily synced with desktops and laptops.
Right now, construction companies are using mobile applications to manage timesheets and payroll administration. Others are using tablets for on-site project timeline tracking and collaboration. What could you or your company be using mobile technology for?