Civil engineers smart to use smart phones?

January 2010 » Columns » BEYOND WORDS
Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.

According to The Nielsen Company, in the third quarter (Q3) of 2009, more than 25 percent of all phones sold were smartphones, and expectations for Q4 were that more than 40 percent of the new phones sold would be smart devices. Remarkably, Nielson predicts that the majority of mobile phones in the United States will be smartphones by mid-2011. And what will they be used for besides making calls? Projections show that 80 percent of these users will access the Internet and 60 percent will access video.

Besides the change in how we access the Internet and from where, there are also changes in phone calling. More and more people are using their mobile phone as their primary contact for work and personal use. And with web-based phones in your pocket, these technologies are accommodating the trend of many hard-working professionals to find work-life balance by achieving their daily professional and personal goals and responsibilities in a more integrated way. With mobile technology, much business is being accomplished during the morning commute.

CE News editors, curious about our niche, conducted a survey of subscribers in November 2009 to assess how prevalent these devices are within our industry and what users are doing with them. Our research found that about 46 percent of respondents have smartphones (Figure 1). Of those that have smartphones, they are using them for a host of uses, and seem to be very committed to their flexibility. Some popular activities include making phone calls, reading and responding to e-mail, texting or instant messaging, reading news and events, and using mobile applications. Other uses like taking photos are popular, and a great tool for site visits.

Figure 1: Which of the following best describes your smartphone/PDA situation (e.g. Blackberry, iPhone, MyTouch, Palm Pre)?

The most popular applications are not surprising for our respondents’ line of work, and I’ve included the specific names for some that were mentioned multiple times: weather (WeatherBug), maps, Google Earth, navigators, document management, recording voice notes, Excel, PDF viewers, Password Keeper, flight status, and of course, scheduling/calendar tools. Applications that also seem to be well-liked include calculators with RPN such as Pcalc; ClockedIn, a time tracker that can be used to log various projects and tasks; and local search tools such as Poynt and AroundMe.

One respondent commented, “Just last week, I was able to complete an unscheduled site visit and record still photos, video, and add the contractor to my contact list all from my iPhone. A great tool to have in the field.” And another shared simply, “I love my iPhone!”

Still, others are not sold on the merits of these tools. Despite predictions for the U.S. population as a whole, our respondents seem mixed on their future plans to buy into the technology trend (Figure 2).

Figure 2: When do you plan to start using a smartphone/PDA?

Even with the rising popularity of mobile technology, only about 37 percent of respondents use their mobile device (smartphone or mobile phone without advanced capabilities) as their primary oral communication tool for work; land line phones still dominate for work.

Looking at the trends and our data, my bet is that in 10 years, we’ll laugh when we remember how it wasn’t uncommon for professionals to have Internet service, a land-line phone, and a mobile device paid for by employers, plus Internet service, a mobile device, and a land-line phone at home.


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