It’s official. Tablets are here to stay. I notice that most of the time my family is on a tablet instead of a computer. You can’t help but love the freedom and flexibility you get with a tablet. It’s the laptop reinvented!
So how does this recent mainstream technology affect the woodworking industry? What’s in it for us? And what’s the difference between an application (App) for a specific tablet platform vs. a web based application? Is one better than the other?
First let’s decipher the high level concepts. There are three major categories in the mobile tablet application world. There are tablets with proprietary apps (such as iPads, Androids, etc.), the Microsoft surface and then there are web applications that could possibly run on any device with a web browser.
Proprietary tablets like iPads need to have apps developed specifically for them. They have a set of tools developers can use to create their apps. These apps are usually quite nice and can offer a great user experience since the programing is developed with the one device family in mind. The challenges with bugs or other software issues are minimized since the hardware and operating environment are limited. It’s easier to take everything into account and look at all the possibilities during development. The downside of this is that the app only functions on that family of devices. For example apps you find on the Apple App Store run only on Apple devices.
Microsoft came out with the Surface Pro a little while ago. This tablet is similar to a Windows based PC where you can install different software intended for Windows operating systems. It seems like it’s trying to be your laptop and tablet in one. Developers who create programs for these devices are typically creating a program for any windows environment. This means you can run the same program on a desktop computer, laptop and Surface Pro, as long as they are all run a Windows operating system. Seems like a great solution, but there can be some limitations. When a program is developed with the assumption that it will run on a PC or laptop with certain hardware performance expectations, it can be sluggish or reveal bugs when we try to run it on a more portable solution that may not have the hardware performance the software developers were assuming. Think about running a video game with high graphics requirements on a PC with a large robust graphics card. That same game may load on a more portable device like the Surface Pro, but don’t expect the experience to be the same.
Another option is running an application in a web browser. All devices have some type of web browser and so we may assume that this would be the ideal solution for a program to run on all tablets out there. But it isn’t necessarily. Developing an application to run in a browser may limit the user experience to the lowest common set of hardware and tools available on the different devices. Also, while HTML5 is showing great signs of progression, the development tools available for online programs are not as evolved as locally installed software yet.
So when you’re looking at mobile applications, try and understand if you are looking at a device specific app, a Windows program intended for a desktop/laptop PC or a web application. The best situation would be to have the program developed for each platform accordingly. That way, if we are on a big powerful laptop or PC we can take full advantage of that power. And when we are using an application on a small tablet, we can scale down the performance draw and maybe increase the icon sizes to allow more user-friendly touch gestures. When we are in a browser, we can limit the functions to what is needed across all platforms only.
For example, banking is a great fit for online. Typically the features required are pretty basic and require limited resources from the device. Web application is fine for this. Designing a kitchen however, that could be painful or limited in a browser. The graphics tools for online development are not quite up to par yet.
Some mobile solutions that make sense to me include measuring applications and interactive 3D visuals that are tablet specific, online solutions that communicate data with ERP systems back at the plant and online CRM seems to be here to stay as well. At the end of the day the success or failure of the technologies will not only be related to the content, but also what platform was chosen and if it was the right one for that type of application.
Peter Mate is co-owner and president of Planit Canada, a software and services company devoted to servicing the manufacturing industry. For more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit planitcanada.ca