Basestone’s new iOS mobile application features (it says) the market’s “most intuitive interface”, but in a busy market, integration matters as much if not more than interface design.
After meeting Blue Ronin/Basestone‘s team in January 2014 (and at other events since then), I have kept an eye open for developments from the London-based startup. In early September 2014, it launched Basestone 2.0, the latest iteration of its iOS mobile-based application for viewing and collaboration on construction sites.
According to the company’s blog post, the biggest change is a complete makeover of the interface, recognising that “when you’re working on site, the last thing you want is to be fiddling around with confusing technology”. The new-look app features what Basestone claim is “the simplest and most intuitive interface of any on the market”.
Information about a single issue is grouped together, aggregating data from multiple Basestone annotation tools and photos, allowing users to capture the progress of an issue from beginning to end, including interim snagging, and ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos. With the issues list, it’s now also easier to get an overview of all issues related to a particular drawing: who created them, how urgent they are and what their status is: simply tap on any issue to zoom into the detail.
Also new in 2.0 is the ability to create projects directly in the app, as well as via the basestone.io website back-end. Users can also import files from other applications, including Dropbox and Box, direct from an iPad. Pricing-wise: basic use of Basestone (enabling sharing of up to 50 drawings) is free; for over 50 drawings, a Professional account (up to 500 drawings) costs £19.99 per user per month, while unlimited storage comes with a £99.99 price tag.
This is a busy and fertile market at the moment with a lot of development activity, sometimes across all the main mobile operating systems, sometimes just across one or two. The main BIM authoring software vendors (Autodesk, Bentley, etc) are creating mobile tools, as are the existing vendors of SaaS (eg 4Projects, Aconex, Asite, Conject) and other collaboration platforms (eg: Newforma’s SmartUse); there are also some long-established mobile developers (MCS Priority One, plus others focused on point solutions such as defects management), and then there has been a flurry of tools created by startups in the US (Plangrid, FieldLens), UK (Cadbeam, Sitedesk) and mainland Europe (GenieBelt), all seeking to make on-site collaboration including access to drawings and/or, in due course, building information models, easier.
The mobile-first developers can create applications designed from the ground-up for ease-of-use on site, focusing on what their end-users require most in terms of functionality, and optimising the connectivity and communication capabilities of the devices they work on. They can quickly attract bottom-up adoption, perhaps from site-based users frustrated at the sometimes over-complex, feature-bloated functions of rival solutions, which can try to squeeze all the capabilities of existing desktop or browser-based applications into the mobile experience. As such, I welcome the disruption of new startups like Basestone.
However, ultimately the security and reliability of the hosting environment and the ability to create and review archives of information captured during project delivery will be what matters most to main contractors and owner/operators. How well a mobile application’s data can be integrated with the rest of a project delivery technology ecosystem will guide its success or failure. As well as a shake-up, there will be a shake-out. While some new businesses may thrive, others will be acquired, or will wither and die. Just as we saw a flurry of construction collaboration businesses launched in the original dot.com boom, we are now seeing a mini mobile boom, and – as before – not all will survive.