Good points Brad, but there is one other thing: Am I the only one out here who wants the ability to turn out the office light and go home at the end of the day without having the pressures of work having the ability to follow where ever I am?
You see mobile apps, I see a never ending work day. It is already bad enough that I find myself finishing designs in my head at 3 am, I really do not need the ability to feel obligated to actually, get up and go to work in my kitchen.
I completely agree with Alex about the user interface problem on mobile devices (as well as other devices). They all suck, as far as I'm concerned. Apple's Mac keyboards on their laptops, at least the older models, are actually pretty darn good, and their touchpads are superb, especially compared to those on Windows machines. But a keyboard's not always what's needed. You don't have to have lousy vision, fat fingers, or be older than 15 to hate texting or soft keyboards. I'm not fond of talking to machines--except for yelling at them when their software malfunctions--but Siri sounds promising.
Good point, TJ. That's a concise way of viewing it. As far as I can see, operators are using the mobile apps to consume information and transfer it to a larger system. Grabbing data remotely and sending it to the main box seems a perfect use for mobile devices.
I think the real stumbling block is that no one has licked the data-input challenge with mobile devices. The soft keyboards stink, and portable, bluetooth-based keyboards just don't cut it. Perhaps Siri on the new iPhone is the first inkling of a possible solution--a speech recognition tool with a decent user interface. The only other challenge I see though is that CAD typically requires numerical entry. So you wouldn't be able to create drawings on mobile devices, but sharing and manipulation would be made a lot easier.
We're talking about consuming and producing information here. Tablets and phones by nature are terrific for consuming. No matter how fast your thumbs though, you're not going to create a 40 page specification in a timely manner on your phone.
Engineers use these tools when they make sense, to consume information (drawing viewers). Producing is much more difficult on them.
Size is another issue. One can easily use a regular clipboard and pad of paper propped on one arm and fist to make decent drawings or diagrams. For an android or ipad tablet to be USABLE as a producer of information, it's going to have to be about the same size.
Good points Brad. I'm hearing much the same thing you're saying. As I understand it, the mobile apps are being used for on-the-run checking and verification of plant equipment. The kind of thing operators have been using laptops for. To gather data, run some quick diagnostics. What I'm hearing is that the smartphone and the tablet are simply easier to handle on the run than a laptop balanced on the knee.
Beth, I think you are right that "Engineers, by natural, are a skeptical lot and don't necessarily want to play around with "toy" apps that don't really do anything substantial." Engineers are not immune to attraction to shiny objects and new tech, but more likely than the average consumer to examine functionality of technology, not just the glamour or sexiness of it. And in the design venue, where engineers frequently find the functionality of a standard pc to be underpowered and with insufficient display size, a mobile platform with even less power and smaller screen is not a substitute for the workstation.
That doesn't mean there is not a place for the mobile apps. But their place is more as an adjunct to the primary workplace hardware and software. They can excel in the field, providing portable access to documents, capturing photos, notes, and data in the field. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes the fastest way to take notes is to snap a few photos of relevant data and measurements.
Likewise, mobile apps have much to offer for interacting with field instrumentation. Here, the field instrumentation interface has in the past been limited by cost and environmental limitations. The hardware cost of adding mobile device connectivity to field instrumentation can be minimal, comparable to just a couple of conventional controls. With appropriate software, the mobile app is capable of providing a much richer and more flexible interface to the instrumentation, going beyond what can easily be implemented via switches and knobs. And being mobile, the interface can be disconnected and travel with the operator, so doesn't have to be capable of extended operation/storage under temperature extremes, which pose cost, functionality and power consumption issues for fixed interfaces.
Interesting, this parallels what's going on in machine vision on the factory floor. There's something of a push for mobile apps there, at least on the part of vendors, but things aren't moving very quickly. Although this is partly due to the still-needed technology that's required, perhaps this has also been slowed because of resistance among older operators.
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