Writing a “ten construction IT trends” feature for a UK construction publication this week, I found myself reflecting again on tablet PCs (partly stimulated by the launch of Apple’s iPad), and on the rise and rise of smartphones. I found myself asking: why focus on downloading ‘apps for this and that’ when you might be able to access online services through the device’s web browser?
As a fan of Software-as-a-Service, SaaS, applications, I still tend to advocate using web-based applications where possible, but recognise that such tools aren’t always appropriate on-site, not least because reliable internet access isn’t always available. Construction projects can sometimes be in remote locations with no telecommunications infrastructure in place at the start of projects, and maybe only limited 3G capabilities (despite the efforts of specialist companies such as EMS – who demonstrated “internet access in a box” to the first Be2camp event 18 months ago). WiMax hasn’t (yet) provided the extended reach that we were anticipating four or five years ago, and wi-fi coverage remains very patchy even within buildings. But the situation is changing; network providers, building owners, transport undertakings, etc are providing more and better internet connection opportunities.
If this trend continues, why would should we continue the practice of loading more and more applications onto the hard-drives of our mobile devices? We could, instead, access services and data held “in the cloud” via a web browser, rather than delving into online application marketplaces such as those provided by Apple or for the Android operating system.
Certainly, mobile access is forecast to continue to grow, and even to outstrip web access via conventionally-networked desktop and laptop devices, and this will have a radical impact on how companies deliver technologies to end users and how it is funded. For instance, rather than paying to download an application, you might be charged per-use – perhaps via some kind of micro-payments system or against a pre-paid subscription.
(This theme is also touched on in a short Information Age article, drawing on research from mobile telecoms analyst ABI Research.)