Feb 20 2014

Which mobile platform to use in AEC environments?

Tablet shrunkAs in most industries, across the broad swathe of Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) sectors, the Windows desktop operation system dominates. However, when thinking about which mobile operating system to use, the picture is more complex.

A bit of history – the first generation of on site construction productivity tools

In the mid-2000s, construction industry specific applications started to appear that ran on web-enabled devices, often “rugged-ised” for the harsh construction site environment.  For example, in 2006 CONJECT launched a Windows Mobile building defects management application that enabled users undertaking site inspections to capture information digitally (including photographs) and to then upload the snagging tool’s data to its core collaboration platform so that it could be efficiently shared with the relevant work package subcontractors.

The mobile device game-changer came when in 2007, Apple launched the iPhone, and later opened its App Store.  Not to be outdone, a Google syndicate launched the rival Android operating system and App Store. The penetration of the iPhone, iPad and the various Android devices has expanded dramatically, whilst Symbian and Blackberry have become reduced to minor players in the mobile OS market.

A three-way battle for the business customer?

Today, the widest array of applications for business and productivity are available  to run on the Apple platform. According to PC magazine research, Apple users have the highest satisfaction ratings, and the top reasons cited for choosing an Apple mobile device are: 1) availability of apps;  2) ease-of-use;  3) reputation.

Industry organisations such as COMIT (Construction Opportunities for Mobile IT) have noted signs amongst members about the increasing popularity of Windows devices. Windows 8 (and Windows Phone 8) has simple touch-screen capabilities, plus the easy fit with existing Microsoft-based back-office IT infrastructures, making it attractive to company IT directors.  The top reasons for choosing a Windows mobile device are:  1) operating system synergies;  2) display size;  3) camera quality.  However as a relative latecomer to the mobile apps market, there are fewer apps available at present.

Given the worldwide penetration of Android, the supply of business applications is widening, although Android is more popular in consumer usage situations. The key reasons for choice of an Android device are: 1) display size; 2) operating system;  3) product reviews. Devices that run on the open-source Android are available from a range of manufacturers, who are each able to configure the platform differently, which means that not all Android apps will work as intended across all devices.

So, given the choice of platforms available, how do you choose whether to choose Apple, Windows or Android operating system for your mobile device?

3 issue to consider when choosing a mobile platform for AEC industry use:

  • Hardware – Hardware considerations include: Apple devices have premium kudos, but that comes at a price; Will you allow team members to use their own devices? (BYOD is a predicted trend in construction this year); Weigh the integration benefits of a Windows phone. Also, some construction software vendors require you to buy their hardware, how does this fit with your needs?
  • Availability of software  – Developers also vary in their platform preferences, so check the productivity apps you want, such as for defects management, are available on the platform you prefer.
  • Integration – Are the apps able to share data with other systems used to manage site-based information?  Does the app come from a vendor that can provide a toolkit across the life cycle of the project, or does it just serve one aspect, such as defects management?  The benefits of a single ILM provider should be carefully assessed.

About the author

Steve Cooper

Steve Cooper is Managing Director of Conject Ltd. He has spent over 25 years within the construction and engineering software markets, successfully running sales and marketing teams. He spent a number of years at SAP within their E&C practice, set up and managed a distribution channel in Asia Pacific for a division of Misys and ran a sales and marketing team within CSB COINS. In 2000 he gained an MBA from Henley Management College.

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