Thursday, February 12, 2009

Comparing Netbooks, Mini-Notebooks, PDAs and Handhelds in Field Services

I am a big fan of Netbooks and Mini-Notebooks. These are lightweight portable computers generally with 7-inch to 11-inch screen sizes optimized for internet connectivity. They often have exceptional battery life and can be used as a truly convergent device. Often they are optimized to run the complete Microsoft Office Suite. This article discusses them in more details.

The term Netbook refers to the fact that they are optimized to work on the internet. They are mobile internet devices that also have the power to run your standard office software applications. Doesn't most mobile handheld devices and PDAs that run Windows Mobile already provide these functions? Yes, but the 7"-11" screen is a vast improvement, especially for people needing to do real work, process and read large amounts of data and read diagrams, maps and drawings.

The Netbook, as a mobile internet device, should be set-up to access online documents, manuals and work order applications through simple internet logins. These devices can be generic enough to be shared by a complete workforce. In the morning the user can simply check out a Netbook, login and have access to all the information they need in the field.

Let's take the example of a service technician in the field. A small mobile phone is just not a good option for comprehensive work order management. It will quickly kill the eyes of the user. You need a bigger screen to work with any kind of data intensive work orders or parts catalogs. At the same time, you do not want the bulk and weight of a full size laptop. A small Netbook with a 7 inch screen can fit in the pocket or in a padded pouch easily. The screen size is big enough to show a lot of information and data fields without constant scrolling.

In situations where internet connections will be intermittent you may want to consider a work order management system that can function equally well connected or disconnected and use database synchronization in the background. Vendors like MobileDataforce specialize in these areas.