By now, we’ve all heard that famously coined phrase, “There’s an App for that!”
As mobile computing devices such as tablets and smartphones are becoming more and more a part of our lives, apps are too. But what exactly is an “app?” It’s shorthand for “application,” but do they really belong in the category of products we call software applications?
I like to think of apps as “software-light.” Apps are simple tools designed to do a handful of tasks. For example, I have a mobile banking app on my smartphone. With it, I can check my balance, see transactions, and transfer money, but I can’t apply for a loan on my phone like I can on the bank’s website.
In other instances, apps may be designed to perform a specific task for people in a particular role. My daughter recently got a new smartphone and was searching for the Groupon app. The search results produced a Groupon app for consumers as well as a separate app for merchants participating in Groupon programs. If we apply this to construction, imagine having an app that only allows you to view project documents. But if you want to markup the documents or perform a quick takeoff, you’d have to use a different app or open the documents on your computer.
Another technology emerging in large part because of increased smartphone and tablet computer use is browser-based software. This is software designed to run within a web browser – and so it’s designed to be accessible using any Internet connected device with one of the popular browsers. When folks think of web or browser-based applications, they typically think of sites like Google or Amazon. Like apps, these online services provide easy-to-use functionality, but they don’t come close to being considered “enterprise” software.
Unlike apps, browser-based software is beginning to offer the full functionality of software that we are used to purchasing and installing on our own computers. The same way we might log in to Amazon is becoming the same way we will log in and access our construction software. With this kind of functionality, we can access information and tools anywhere, anytime, from any connected device. The good news is that you can work anywhere, anytime. The bad news is that you can work anywhere, anytime. Now there’s a dilemma.
Two trends, one technology
I’ve heard people debate whether the increased use of tablets and smart phones will have an “oversimplification” effect on the software industry, turning sophisticated applications into “single-serving” apps. In some instances, it may be better for a worker to have an app rather than a full software application. The key is understanding how people work and then providing tools for them to do their job more efficiently and effectively.
Because of the increased use of mobile computing devices in construction, where we work on the move and collaboratively with a constantly changing set of partners, vendors, owners, etc., software has to become simpler. It must become easier to use and not dependent upon a particular hardware platform. In this environment, there is a place for single purpose apps for tasks such as time tracking, punch lists, etc. But there remains the need for complete operations management and collaboration software.
The continued growth of one technology – the Internet (a.k.a. “the Cloud”) will keep driving developers like me to deliver increased functionality over a new platform – the Web. So look for more apps coming your way, but also look for a completely new way of buying and using construction software.
Are you using tablets and smartphones in your business? Are you using construction-specific apps or a web-based software system?