foAudits handheld use in
Fundamental Objects, Inc. (FO) is a software development consulting
firm working in the energy field. With our
initial offering in 1998,
we were the first company
integrating pda (handheld) and web-based energy applications. foAudits is now in use for lighting,
energy and water audits; for both residential as well as commercial
applications. Our largest application has 1,964 users syncing on
daily basis. These applications use laptops, tablets, netbooks and
In the handheld space, we have worked with Symbian, Palm, Windows
Mobile and the Google Android OS.
The Major Handheld Platforms
Because of the highly competitive nature of utilities, one of the
services that we offer is to closely guard the nature,
content and implementation of each customer's audit system. However, at a high
level, here are the platforms that we use (and why):
Device versus Operating
While there are many variables affecting what device to use, there are
really two initial ways to break this down.
The choice of Hardware Device, such as Laptop, Netbook, Tablet,
PDA (disconnected devices) and Smartphones (PDAs integrated into
phones). After that distinction, comes the choice of Operating
System platform to pick; such as Windows Mobile or WebOS.
Everything, from available feature set to cost, comes into play as
decision point factors. But, focusing just on handhelds, here is what
we look for:
The main thing that we try to optimize is ease of one-handed use.
- Largest screen area
- Touch screen
- Cost of connectivity
- WiFi capability
- Hardware keyboard
- Integration with the customer's systems
- Customer-specific requests
Auditors will likely be carrying flashlights, thermal sensors, chalk or
tools; so the easier that the device is to operate with one hand, the
better. The large screen area is important, so that the most audit
information as possible can be on any given screen without the user
having to move between pages. A touch screen, with optional stylus
input is important, so that the user does not have to work the keys
unnecessarily to input data -- this turns out to be an important
request. The cost of connectivity (the wireless plan) is important;
especially when a large number of auditors are involved. The monthly
wireless charges will soon accumulate to be much more than the costs of
the devices themselves. WiFi connectivity helps so that the customer
can sync data back and forth to the web/database without having to
incur wireless charges. While the software keypads, like on the iPhone,
have become better they still are not as easy to use as a hardware
thumbpad keypad on a Palm Treo, or the pull-out keyboards, like on the
AT&T Fuze. It does not take long for someone to use the hardware
keyboard approach to appreciate the difference. Customer-specific
requests, like being able to read bar-codes; read RFID tags, or hook to
temperature sensors often tip the balance one way or the other.
More on the Individual
note: The basic growth in use of the platform is shown with an up arrow
(for growing); sideways for about the same; or a down arrow for
dropping in requests.
Palm, was the first major PDA platform and largely owned the market
until a few years ago. Indecision on internal
operating system strategy
and a short lived marriage with Microsoft (to use the Windows Mobile
OS) knocked Palm back.
Now promoting a new OS (WebOS on the Palm Pre)
they are trying to make a comeback through aggressive marketing; but
the tools are not there on the current platform.
foAudits use in utilities: About ¼ of our customers currently use the Palm platforms, mostly because
supports hand scanners. These scanners are used for bar-coding
-- such as to relieve
inventory, for items drawn for
measures/services that are used in energy audit repairs. Other
reasons include cost and that the Palm ran on both the PalmOS
and Windows Mobile platforms.
The Palm Treo
the PalmOS and Windows Mobile
Windows Mobile, which has gone through many changes (including product names: Windows CE, Pocket PC,
Windows Mobile) was the largest challenger to
Palm in the PDA market until the last two years. Windows Mobile though
is under some pressure, especially from the Android devices. Adding to this are
companies like Palm (in 2009)
and Motorola (in 2010) dropping Windows
Mobile use on their respective hardware devices.
foAudits use in utilities: About ½ of our customers
currently use Windows Mobile platforms,
often because of the
familiarity with the applications on the device. (such as Lite versions of Excel, Word
and Powerpoint run directly on the device.) Note
however, that these apps can now also be run on other
platforms, like PalmOS; and that clone versions are available on
the other platforms. Like Palm,
Windows Mobile also supports bar-code
scanners, such as the Symbol in the inset.
Blackberry (RIM)'s strength is in email and corporate applications.
While popular, the implementation of development
tools across the various
Blackberry devices is very inconsistent, and it is difficult to program
on. This leads to
smaller, less significant applications in use on
Blackberries. Until recently, RIM hand no touchscreen devices; and the
screens are smaller than most other platforms.
foAudits use in utilities: Many of our utility customers
use Blackberries for email. Often this selection was made
before considering handhelds for auditing or internal survey
use. NONE of our customers have selected Blackberries for use
in auditing. They always end up selecting another platform; and
either move the phone/email capabilities onto the new device;
or end up carrying both. Which of course, is not an optimal
Much in the same position as the Blackberry, the iPhone is extremely
popular. While there are thousands of
applications for the iPhone, most
of them are games or curiosity applications. The high cost of the
solution (including the highest wireless data plan
costs), plus the limitations on how applications can be developed slow
the iPhone's business penetration. The software keyboard, while
interesting to use, is not foolproof. As of Sept 2009,
we have not had
a utility customer request an iPhone implementation.
foAudits use in utilities: None of our utility customers
have requested applications for the iPhone.
The latest Android devices, stand as a look and feel
competitor to the iPhone, without the overall high cost and difficulty
of development. Based on an open-source Linux operating system (like
the PalmPre) -- the per unit licensing issues of
Windows Mobile are
removed as well. Initially hampered by Microsoft efforts to quell
adoption of Android, many
hardware vendors, such as HTC are now adding
significant Android support.
foAudits use in utilities: We are actively working on a
Google Android version of foAudits in direct response to
customer requests (as well as market trends).
The greatest number of smartphones in the world run the Symbian OS.
That is its key drawing point.
Coming in at more of a phone-first
perspective, with generally small screens and phone keypad-only data
entry, as well as a lack of integration points with backend systems,
holds Symbian back.
foAudits use in utilities: We have a few Symbian
applications - such as the foAudits variant to
Symbian is not highly requested as a target platform.