Thursday, April 26, 2007

Handheld Computer Considerations

There are a lot of good handheld computers available and some bad ones. I will leave the bad ones for a future discussion and focus on some of the points to consider when selecting good handheld hardware.

  1. What environment will you be using the handheld computer in - is it hot, cold, wet, dusty or filled with explosive vapors? Is it a clean office environment, or a rugged out-of-doors environment?
  2. Is your software application focused exclusively on bar code scanning, RFID reading, GPS, or do you need a multi-purpose device?
  3. Will the hardware configuration ever need to be changed? Some handhelds can be configured at will, others are locked and can only be used with the original configuration.
  4. What hardware does your selected software require?
  5. Will the battery last long enough to accomplish your work? Do you need back-up batteries? Can you use batteries purchased at the local market, or are they vendor specific?
  6. What is your budget? What does the value of using a handheld computer justify spending? Do you have enough budget to purchase the software and hardware you need? Does your budget only allow for low cost consumer devices? How many replacements cover the cost of a ruggedized handheld?
  7. How do you replace broken devices? Can you get a replacement in 24 hours, or must you wait on the slow-boat-from-China?
  8. What kind of support contracts and warranties are available?
  9. How long will you new handheld computer be supported, serviced and manufactured by the vendor. Is it near end of life and being discounted for a reason?
  10. Can you upgrade the operating system when Microsoft releases a new version of their mobile operating system?
  11. Can you use standard laptop data cards in the handheld, or do you need to pay for high priced vendor specific cards?
  12. Can you view the screen effectively in the sunlight?
  13. Does the bar code scanner work effectively in real-world environment? Some scanners can not scan effectively through glass or plastic.
  14. Is the size and weight of the handheld appropriate for the user and environment?
  15. Can your handheld computer support all the add-ons you require at the same time? Some devices can only support a specific number of add-on components so you are forced to choose. Some can not support both a GPS and a data card at the same time. Some devices can not support both a bar code scanner and a GPS add-on. This is an important consideration.
  16. Do you need only a touch screen and navigation pad, or a number pad or a full QWERTY keyboard? This is very important for user acceptance.
  17. Is the handheld device also going to be used as a phone? Is a 2 pound industrial grade handheld really a usable phone?
  18. Does your low cost consumer grade PDA need a rugged case like the ones Otterbox sells?
  19. If you only have a budget for a low cost device, does it support the battery life and add-on components you require?
  20. How will the device be transported around a job site? Will it strap to a belt, swing from a shoulder strap, sit in a holster or be mounted to the dashboard of your truck? Does your device support your chosen method?
  21. Where is the closest inventory of the handheld computers? Where is the closest repair depot?
  22. Will your vendor loan you a device on trial?
  23. How will your handheld computer send data back to the office - cradle sync, WiFi, bluetooth, GPRS/GSM, CDMA?
  24. What size screen do you need? Some devices like the Jett-Eye have a "landscape view" others a "portrait view" many have different sized screens. What do you require?
  25. Do you need an integrated digital camera? Do you need a low or high resolution camera and does your device support it?
  26. Does a refurbished device from Ryzex make better sense that a new device?
  27. Where is your vendor's office? Are they in the neighborhood or on the other side of the planet? Does their location offer you the support and attention you deserve?
  28. Does your handheld computer run on the same operating system that your software solutions require?
  29. Does your handheld computer come with a pistol grip or other straps that help you avoid dropping it?
  30. Can you comfortably hold the device in your handheld and complete the required job? Some devices have scanners on the side, on the end or underneath.
  31. Can you effectively view the data you need? Some jobs simply require a full keyboard and a full screen for viewing large CAD files or Maps. Does your screen size match your requirements?

RAM Mounts for Mobile and Handheld PDAs

Many of you will be using your rugged mobile handheld PDA solutions in your vehicles. RAM Mounts has a large selection of different equipment for mounting handheld PDAs, laptops and Tablet PCs inside of your vehicle.

Some of the mounts are designed to enable your mobile devices to be charged while cradled. MobileDataforce has a large deployment that includes software licenses of our PointSync Mobile, Psion Teklogix WorkAbout Pros and RAM Mounts all connected to a GPRS/Satellite system for an always connected environment.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Tools, Parts & Mobile Work Order Solutions on Handheld PDAs

We have had several requests recently to combine mobile work order solutions with inventory and asset tracking applications for use on mobile handheld PDAs. This is not unusual, it just points out the fact that companies are recognizing a great deal of value from mobilizing business processes. Here is an example:

The company wants to track any employees that enter the stockroom where both inventory and tools are kept, and track anything that is removed by them. They would do this by matching the employee's ID cards, with the customer's work order and any inventory or tools that are used on the work order.

This solution would better control the use of tools and inventory, and ensure they are appropriately billed to the customer's work order. This system would provide the following ROI:
  1. Reduce missing inventory
  2. Bill the customer appropriately for inventory usage
  3. Bill the customer appropriately for the use of tools
  4. Track the tools and who has them (asset tracking)
  5. Assign inventory and tools to an employee for accountability
  6. Reduce the labor needed to manage inventory, billing, and assets

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Latest Information on Appforge

After losing over $24 million since 2001 Appforge closes and sells assets to Oracle. Here are a number of additional articles and blogs on the subject:

MobileDataforce invites former Appforge developers to consider the PointSync Mobility Platform for rapidly developing mobile applications.

Paintless Dent Repair & Handheld PDA Solutions

MobileDataforce has become one of the leading suppliers of mobile handheld PDA software applications to the Paintless Dent Repair industry (PDR). A few years ago I would not have guessed this would turn out to be such a dynamic and growing market for us.

Why are companies involved in the PDR industry using mobile handheld PDA solutions for field services? Here are a few of the business issues that mobile solutions address:

  • Avoid duplicate billings - when a car is brought into inventory, the VIN is scanned using a bar code scanner, this creates a new and unique record in the mobile software application that can be used to uniquely identify the vehicle and to assign inspections, work orders and invoices to it. This avoids duplicate billings for the same vehicle which causes the dealership to question your integrity.
  • Avoid double entry of data - data should only be entered once. Data should be entered at the "point-of-work" and then synchronized wirelessly directly with the office accounting system. When you use a paper form based system, the staff in the field must fill it out, fax or deliver it to the office where another staff member must decipher it, analyze it, complete it, and then re-type it into a computer system. This is a huge and unnecessary cost and prevents many franchisers from scaling up in size.
  • Managers and staff need to know what is happening in the field. Mobile handheld solutions that are wirelessly synchronized with the office computer system can be updating time sheets, production sheets, inventory, employee data, work schedules, sales, customer information, invoices, inventory etc. all day long. This provides management with near real-time visibility into their operations. This is how active, mobile managers stay in touch with their distributed operations.
  • Many of our PDR customers are competing with other companies for an auto dealer's business. Being able to show the manager of the auto dealership how your operations are mobilized with rugged handheld computers, wirelessly synchronized with the central office and capable of printing invoices and work orders directly from in the field is very impressive. It shows a level of sophistication and operational excellence missing with many PDR operations.

    There are more articles on the use of handheld PDAs in the Paintless Dent Repair industry here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thoughts on the Business of Mobile Handheld PDA Software Development

Software and IT Consultants that wish to offer general mobile software development services and mobile handheld PDA solutions to a broad market have the following important business management questions to consider:

  • how do you achieve economies of scale (get better and faster over time to increase profitability)
  • how do you manage risks (from many new and custom development projects)
  • how do you develop in-house expertise in a broad windows mobile market with a large number of different mobile business processes
  • how do you develop all the appropriate technology skills necessary to deliver a wide variety of applications using different synchronization, security, integration, database, business process and connectivity options in your mobile software
  • how do you develop a complete quality assurance plan for every new custom mobile software application (make sure you include this time in your proposal)
  • how do you efficiently test and de-bug a large number of custom mobile applications
  • how do you document how each customized software application works (make sure you include this time in your proposal)
  • how do you maintain and support a wide variety of custom mobile software applications
  • how do you keep your customer’s mobile software applications current with new versions of mobile operating systems and new handheld device technologies
  • how do you integrate your custom mobile software applications with a large variety of different backend databases and database applications
  • how do you do this all profitably

I have had many software and IT consultants contact me and say they have tried to develop a business targeting mobile software applications using Microsoft’s .NET development environment or other coding environments like Appforge, but it simply takes too long, and the cost is too high for the majority of their small to medium sized customers. They contacted me to ask if MobileDataforce has a solution that can address their business needs. The short answer is yes.

In order to profitably develop customized mobile software solutions for use on smartphones and handheld PDAs a large variety of business processes and/or industries, one must standardize as many of the design, development, deployment and support processes as possible. This goal is most easily accomplished by using a mobile software platform that provides these features in a configurable environment.

A mobile software platform enables your professional services organization to train on a standardized platform and to use a standardized methodology for rapidly developing and delivering custom solutions. With a common platform in use, the following benefits can be recognized:

  • Many of the requirements that mobile projects have are already pre-built in the mobile software platform
  • project estimates become increasingly accurate
  • software developers can easily support each other's projects and mobile applications
  • synchronization does not have to be developed, rather it is configured
  • mobile application screens don't have to be developed, rather they are configured
  • connectivity options don't have to be developed, rather they are configured
  • handheld device support is configured, rather than developed
  • mobile databases don't have to be developed, rather they are already included and only need configured
  • common templates and functions can be re-used on many different applications
  • technical support staff can easily de-bug and support new custom applications using visual de-buggers and management tools
  • design standards and functions make screen creation quick and efficient
  • application "clips" are reusable configurations and features that can be re-used on many different projects
  • the function library has over 220 pre-built functions that save design and development time
  • existing application templates can used and customized for multiple customer projects
  • new versions of mobile solutions can be published to the mobile user from the server
  • one set of code can work on Windows XP, Windows CE, Windows Mobile, Tablet PC and multiple screen sizes

The bottom-line - a large variety of mobile applications can be rapidly designed, developed, deployed and supported profitably if they are produced using a mobile software platform like the PointSync Mobility Platform. To program or code a large variety of different and customized mobile applications using .NET or Appforge is simply too expensive and takes too much development time for the average small to medium sized business. Speed and efficiency is required to serve this market. Mobile applications should be configured for these clients, rather than programmed.

Here are a few articles that address these issues in more detail:

Ultra-Rugged Portable Printers - O'Niel Printers for Handheld PDA Solutions

Have you ever thought what a challenge it would be to produce a ruggedized printer for use with a mobile handheld PDA? Think about the environment they are used in; rain, snow, dust, spilled coffee, climbing in-and-out of vehicles all day, dropping it on the bathroom floor when your belt is loose. I am sure the folks at O'Niel have a million stories they laugh about or cry about when customers are not around.

For those who feel "rugged" is not good enough for them, O'Niel Portable Printers offer the "Ultra-Rugged" line of microFlash printers.

These printers are also called "wearable" printers and they can be clipped to your belt. Hummm...what if you don't wear a belt? Where would you clip it? Perhaps you also need ruggedized clothing to support your ruggedized printer? These are popular with the route delivery folks who are leaving proof-of-delivery receipts with digital signatures. They can also be used for sales receipts, service requests and letters to your mother. That's an idea, a very short curled letter to mom.

Since these printers are "wearable" I wonder if you need to accessorize them? Do they come with matching handheld computers, styluses? Are there different colors, patterns and textures....I guess black goes with everything.

MobileDataforce develops customized mobile software solutions for companies, and these kinds of rugged, or ultra-rugged printers are often part of the solution. In this article I discuss a project we did for a company that manages parking garages and city parking meters.

In an earlier article I wrote about PrinTekMobile's FieldPro Printer.

Zebra also offers rugged and wearable printers.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

AppForge sells assets; firm owes $1.8 million

AppForge sells assets; firm owes $1.8 million

Atlanta Business Chronicle - April 13, 2007
by Justin Rubner

Details have emerged about the fate of software-maker AppForge Inc.
The company, which unexpectedly shut its doors in mid-March, has sold its assets to Atlanta-based Hays Financial Consulting LLC, a firm that manages distressed, insolvent and bankrupt companies. AppForge, which developed software for PDAs and other mobile devices, filed an "assignment for the benefit of creditors," a quasi-bankruptcy that assigns all assets to the management company with the intent of paying off creditors as quickly as possible so shareholders can get something as well.

Gartner on Appforge

This blog article is from Nick Jones and Michael King at Gartner:

Gartner's advice - "...develop a contingency plan for what you'll do if AppForge ceases to be viable, and be prepared to activate that plan some time in the next three months."

MobileDataforce is here to help with contingency plans.

Rent a Mobile Handheld PDA or Handheld Computer

Ryzex now offers rugged industrial handheld PDAs or computers for rent. How is this helpful? Many organizations need rugged handheld computers only for a specific 6 week period of time for year-end inventory, annual inspections, or a one time limited time project.
MobileDataforce sees a lot of these projects because our mobile software platform, the PointSync Mobility Platform, enables companies to quickly design, development and deploy these simple mobile applications.
Another important set of considerations is the ability to immediately synchronize and review the data that was collected on the mobile applications. In an earlier blog article I wrote about the challenges with using poorly trained, temporary workers for important data collection in the field.

Appforge Discussion Group

I found this online discussion group on the subject of Appforge. It is mostly Appforge developers trying to determine what to do next, and how to activate their existing licenses when no one answers the phone at Appforge.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Ruggedized Digital Cameras and Windows CE

Two Technologies has an interesting product strategy with their Jett-Eye handheld PDA. They have in effect created a ruggedized digital camera in the form of a handheld PDA. Their product marketing emphasizes the camera features as its most distinctive component.

Take digital color pictures in the field. Capture data on the go. Seamlessly connect with the office. Simultaneously increase field service productivity, improve customer service, and turbo charge your profits—all while improving your customer relationships. This complex scenario is now made simple with the JETT•eye. It was designed to make all of this possible at an affordable price point.

Rugged True-Camera-System- 5.17 MP color CMOS Sensor (4MP processed)
• Camera System scans bar codes and processes digital images with auto-focus and illumination

One no longer must settle for a 1.3 megapixel camera in a handheld PDA.

We at MobileDataforce get requirements weekly from companies asking for digital image integration within their mobile data collection applications. Projects involving asset management, conditional assessments, inspections, work orders, quality assurance and law enforcement and compliance often require as must data collection as possible. High resolution cameras just enhance this capability.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Furniture Delivery & Mobile Handheld PDA Solutions

I had a piece of furniture delivered this week and it was an interesting experience with a mobile software application for handheld PDAs. The delivery team had an Intermec 700C Pocket PC with an integrated data card and a bar code scanner with them. I asked them to tell me what they do with it and here is what they said.

  1. They first scan all boxed furniture as they load it into the trucks. This allows the office to see where any piece of furniture is at any time.

  2. The scan is synchronized with the enterprise database and the addresses of the delivery location and the customer information is pulled down to the handheld computer.

  3. When they unload the furniture at the delivery location, they scan the bar code on the label of the boxed furniture and fill out an electronic delivery form on the handheld computer with the deliver driver's name, date and time stamp on it.

  4. They carry the boxes into the house and remove the furniture from it.

  5. They inspect the furniture for damage

  6. They ask the customer to inspect the furniture for any damage and then sign their digital signature on the Intermec bar code scanner screen.
  7. Any identified damage that is documented activates an additional "damage report" form on the handheld computer.

  8. The driver also signs his name on the screen to verify his delivery.

  9. The Intermec bar code scanner synchronizes the data via GPRS back to the enterprise database.

  10. Any changes to the driver's routes or deliveries are synchronized out to the driver's handheld computer and a pop-up window with an alert bell informs the driver of a new dispatch.

The above list contains a good example of how to effectively use handheld solution for the following:

  • proof-of-delivery
  • scheduling of deliveries
  • near real-time dispatch
  • near real-time notification of deliveries
  • near real-time notification of route progress
  • inventory tracking
  • damaged goods inspection and reporting
  • work order management

The problem - the delivery man still had me sign 4 copies of paper forms. What was that all about? 2 copies of delivery forms, and 2 customer service forms verifying there was no damage to the furniture upon delivery. I also had to sign my initials verifying the time of delivery. I asked him if the handheld computer saved him time and he answered no and that it added time to the delivery because he must climb into the back of the truck and scan all of the bar codes before leaving the warehouse, and scan then all again upon fill out the same information on paper forms. OK, that is a problem.

The delivery company had not integrated many of the associated business processes yet. They had made a good first step, but they needed to get all the paper forms on the handheld. The driver does not want to carry a handheld computer in one hand, and a stack of papers in the other. You want to reduce work, not add another layer of it.

The furniture delivery company had automated part of the process (dispatch and proof-of-delivery), but not the customer service forms and the furniture company's inspection reporting documentation.

A complete integration of business processes would have all the data collection requirements for all the various third parties on the same handheld device. The device would synchronize the data back to the office and all the relevant "data" would be forwarded to the appropriate business partners and integrated with their IT systems. This solution would save a great deal of delivery time, internal staff resources and paper.

Appforge Selling Off Pieces

More reports and rumors on Appforge:

Appforge's website URL now re-directs to Oracle. Last week I heard that Appforge sold their customer list to a different software company, and now their website domain to Oracle?

If there were any kind of value in the Appforge business plan, it seems they would have kept the customer list and website domain together and sold them as a package. The customer list is a key asset and represents their marketing and sales efforts since 2001. Their web domain name is their key marketing real estate. Separating them seems to represent there was minimal value in the business. Anyone looking for used cubicles, desks, computers and chairs?

If this is true (I read it on the internet so it must be), they are truly selling the company in pieces rather than to a company looking to support the product line and customer base.

MobileDataforce is a mobile software solutions company that provides an alternative for Appforge customers.

Thanks for the news Arfur C!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Appforge Strategy vs Mobile Software Platform for PDAs, Smartphones and Handhelds

Appforge provided software developers with pre-built code scripts, code libraries, and developer tools for developing applications for PDAs, handhelds and Smartphones as opposed to MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform which is a "mobile software platform" for designing, developing and deploying data-centric mobile applications. What is the difference? The PointSync Mobility Platform comes with the following:

  • Graphical development environment for designing and configuring mobile applications
  • Embedded mobile databases
  • Embedded synchronization database server
  • Embedded synchronization technology
  • Database integration manager
  • Deployment manager
  • User manager
  • Application manager
With the PointSync Mobility Platform, you do not need additional third-party mobile databases, third-party development environments, third-party integration tools, third-party synchronization tools. All of these are included in the software platform.

I recognize that some Appforge developers prefer programming mobile solutions from scratch, but many companies simply want to get a powerful, proven mobile solution running in the field as fast as they can. So if getting a powerful, proven mobile application deployed in the field is your priority, I would encourage you to consider using an existing mobile software platform.

Here are a few additional articles that further discuss mobile software platforms:

Printek's FieldPro Printer for Use with Mobile Handheld PDAs

One of MobileDataforce's customers operates a parking garage management company in the SE of the USA. In addition to operating city parking garages, they also contract with municipal governments to issue parking tickets when vehicles are illegally parked. This customer required a mobile printer like the Printek FieldPro pictured here for use with their mobile handheld PDAs. It is designed to be used out-of-doors in the dust and the rain and to operate on batteries. Since most of our customers operate in these environments this is a very appealling design! Our customer's employees walk around the garage and the city filling out electronic forms on their rugged handheld computers and printing citations. They needed a rugged, mobile printer that operates on batteries and connects to the handheld computer via bluetooth.

MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform printing module enabled them to connect via cable or bluetooth to these kind of rugged mobile printers.

Other MobileDataforce customers need a portable mobile printer that prints on standard sized paper forms and often turn to mobile printers that are designed to stay in the vehicle like the HP 450. The big difference is this printer is portable and lightweight, but is not designed to be wearable on a belt and suffer the effects of rain and dust. Here is HP's description -
  • High-performance printing virtually anytime, anywhere with photo-quality resolution, minimal, user intervention and a wide range of wired and wireless connectivity options, including Bluetooth wireless technology.

Often our customers want to leave a paper forms at their customer's location such as a completed "service request" or a "proof-of-delivery" form. If their vehicle is close to their worksite, an HP 450 may be sufficient, but if you need a ruggedized mobile printer that operates on batteries, fits on your belt and is connected via bluetooth with your handheld computer, then the Printek FieldPro is a great option.

MobileDataforce® Expands in Asia with New Singapore Reseller

Boise, Idaho— April 11, 2007 – MobileDataforce®, a leading provider of business critical mobile software applications for use on handheld PDA and smartphones, today announced a reseller partnership with NetCob Technologies Pte Ltd, in Singapore.

“MobileDataforce’s PointSync Mobility Platform will bring tremendous value to our target market in Asia,” says John Gong, Managing Director of NetCob Technologies. “Increasingly companies are looking to enterprise mobility solutions to more efficiently capture data in the field. MobileDataforce’s mobile software solutions offer the most flexible and innovative technologies to securely and cost effectively mobilize business processes.”

The PointSync Mobility Platform is an enterprise class solution used to rapidly design, develop and deploy business critical mobile applications for use on smartphones, industrial handhelds and PDAs using the Windows Mobile OS. It is architected to provide database centric mobile applications with bi-directional synchronization, connectivity, security and enterprise database integration all within one software platform.

About Netcob Technologies Pte Ltd

NetCob Technologies Pte Ltd,, focuses on cutting edge technologies to help their customers create lasting value. Their charter rests on their capability to conceptualize and conceive IT solutions that will enable their customers and partners to maintain focus and grow their businesses.

About MobileDataforce

MobileDataforce is a global leader in the development of high performance software solutions for use on mobile handheld computers. Privately held, MobileDataforce was founded in 2000 and its software solutions are sold worldwide through direct and Value Added Reseller (VAR) channels. For more information, please visit our website at

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More on Appforge's Demise

I had the chance to speak to another industry mobility expert yesterday about the recent demise of Appforge, and his opinion was that Appforge competed too closely with Microsoft and lost.

Appforge's original business plan seemed to assume that the business community would adopt the Palm and the Symbian operating systems in significant numbers, but that simply did not happen. Companies that were seeking to mobilize business solutions were using Windows Mobile or Windows CE operating systems. This left Appforge with only the Microsoft developer community as a sizable target market, and this community tended to stick with the Visual Studio and .NET development environment for programming tools.

Appforge found themselves competing head-to-head with Microsoft's VB .NET. At some point the VC funding stopped and Appforge failed to find a buyer. Now that they have shut the doors, rumor has it they are selling off the remaining company assets brick by brick.

MobileDataforce offers an alternative approach to mobile solution development. They develop RAD tools (rapid application development tools) for quickly designing, developing and deploying mobile solutions with minimal programming required. They target enterprises who are mobilizing their business processes on the Windows Mobile and Windows CE operating systems.

Dead - Dell Axim Handheld PDAs

It appears that Dell has quietly stopped making and selling the Axim PDA. Just like the Palm devices of old, Dell can not find a market selling a stand alone consumer PDA. Consumers want Smart phones and PDA phones and they are buying them in large numbers. Soon consumers will demand music, video and GPS in their Smart Phones.

Inspection Failure & Handheld PDAs

NON-COMPLIANCE! REJECTION! There are so many different ways to fail an inspection. If you could see the stacks of inspection forms that sit on the desks of my professional services teams you could barely sleep at night! Have you ever thought about how many different ways you could fail an inspection?

If you were an elevator in Broward County, Florida - you could fail the following inspections: 7010, 7900, 7020, 7040, 7060, 7030, 7050, 7070, 7090
And believe don't want to fail 7070.

In each of these inspections - you could end up in violation in so many different ways. You could receive "Danger Sign", "Ascending Car Over Speed", "Alarm Bell", and "Door Closing Speed" violations.

If you were a commercial establishment that sells medical narcotics legally, there are inspections completed by the State Board of Pharmacy. If you are a commercial establishment that sells narcotics illegally, then you have other problems to worry about.

In a juvenile corrections facility you could fail the nightly bed check inspection.

If you are a pest, you could fail a huge list of different inspections.

Termites, mold, water, soil, food, vehicle, safety, OSHA, fire equipment - there are thousands of different inspections you could likely fail at any point during the day.

In the electrical utility industry you could fail the following inspections before lunch:

Padmount transformer inspection
Manhole inspection
Pothead inspection (don't ask)
Vault (Substation) inspections
Station inspections
Padmount station inspections
Pole inspections
As-built data collection
Line patrol inspections
Ground rod inspections
Underground Splice inspections
Network secondary transformer inspections
Underground secondary network inspections
Customer equipment inspections
Sub-transmission insulator inspections
Switching center inspections
Farm metering inspection

The thing all these inspections have in common is that you can fail them all on a handheld PDA using inspection software, and the failure can be synchronized wirelessly back to the central database where your wife can immediately be notified.

Psion Teklogix's WorkAbout Pro Handheld and RFID

Over the last couple of weeks I have highlighted a lot of handheld PDAs that I have found interesting, however, when I walk the halls of our offices and look on the desks of our professional services teams, I see a whole lot of the Psion Teklogix WorkAbout Pro. I know my team has loaded our PointSync mobile software client onto hundreds of these handhelds recently. They are popular with companies that need a rugged handheld that can be opened up and configured with a large variety of different add-ons. For example, if you want a basic pocket pc in a rugged case today, but will soon need to add a GPRS wireless card, or a GPS receiver, or a RFID reader, the WorkAbout Pro is a good option. It can be reconfigured at will with in minutes. The WorkAbout Pro shown in the image above has an add-on RFID reader attached. This one was used for tracking cattle IDs using passive RFID ear tags.

The ability to reconfigure your industrial/rugged device should not be taken for granted. Most industrial grade handhelds come pre-configured and do not allow you to change the configuration once they are purchased. The WorkAbout Pro is the one industrial grade handheld that I have seen that gives the user the flexibility to change and upgrade after the purchase.

Water Proof Handheld PDAs

Have you ever held a TDS Recon Pocket PC? It is solid, feels bomb proof and is water proof. If you are working in the out-of-doors in mud, slime, rain and snow and need a field data collection device, I would invite you to consider this handheld PDA. It isn't cheap, but it is specialized for the most rugged conditions and provides all the benefits of collecting data in the field and syncing it back to the enterprise database.
MobileDataforce has delivered mobile solutions using the PointSync Mobility Platform to electrical utility companies, engineers and many other companies that were using this device for field data collection.

Re-engineering Business Processes with Handheld PDA Solutions

MobileDataforce's professional services teams are working on dozens of mobile software projects globally at any given time. As a result, we have gained through experience in-depth knowledge about how mobile solutions can change companies, their business processes and the way they think. Let's discuss a few of the things we have seen and learned:
  1. Companies rarely understand the full extent of the changes mobile software solutions will bring to their organization
  2. Most mobile software projects start small and have a very limited user base and business focus
  3. As the users begin to test and adopt the new mobile software solutions, they most often expand the project as they quickly recognize the efficiencies that can be gained by using mobile software solutions that are tied into corporate database applications
  4. There is usually some point about 80% through the mobile software development project when there is a loud "AHA!" that echos the halls of our clients' offices - they get it. They can see beyond their immediate project to the potential of mobility
  5. Mobility is a process - a company may start with mobile phones, then move on to email syncing & SMS, then full bi-directional synchronization of corporate data to mobile handheld computers and specialized mobile software applications
  6. Companies may start with mobilizing their field service technicians, but rapidly expand to mobile CRM, mobile shipping and inventory status, mobile asset management, quality assurance inspections and reporting, real-time mobile business analytics for the management team, route accounting and proof of delivery for the truck (or lorry) drivers. The more the company learns, the more they realize the benefits of mobile data solutions
  7. If a company has started down the path to mobilizing their operations and business processes, but have chosen to hardcode or custom program each of these processes as separate projects - they will quickly realize their error in not starting with a full mobile software platform
  8. The mobile software platform - is a server based product that supports a standardized way of designing, developing and deploying multiple mobile software projects in a manner that is easily learned and supported by IT
  9. Once the mobile software platform (the PointSync Mobility Platform is one option) is in place, all IT developers, consultants and technical support personnel can be trained on the same platform and method for efficiencies and speed of development
  10. The mobile software platform supports the design, development, deployment, support, version control of applications, publishing of applications to mobile devices, data security configurations, database integrations and much more

The key concept in this process is to start with a mobile software platform - this enables you to build up and support large numbers of mobilized business processes and projects in the same efficient manner. If a company chooses to custom build every project from scratch, the efficiencies of development and support will never be realized.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Appforge in Trouble

The internet is buzzing over reports that mobile software tools provider Appforge has closed its doors. MobileDataforce is in the same mobile software market as Appforge, but rather than focusing only on providing code and scripts for developers of mobile solutions, they make development easier and faster through rich graphical development environments that include mobile syncing, mobile databases, database integration and security.

Information on MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform (shown in the picture above) can be found here. 30-day trial versions are available upon request.

Intermec CN3 Mobile Handheld PDA

This week I have written about several new "light industrial"
handheld PDAs and industrial strength handheld computers including the Dolphin 7600 and Symbol's MC35. Today I want to highlight another new handheld PDA, this time from Intermec. It is called the CN3, uses Windows Mobile and is pictured here.

The trend is readily apparent - the ruggedized handheld PDA manufacturers have recognized the need to develop specialized hardware for mobile field workers. Workers that need a light weight device with a combined mobile phone and a handheld PDA so they can communicate both voice and enterprise data from their handhelds while working at remote locations and jobsites.

These categories of handheld computers align nicely with MobileDataforce's focus on the mobile worker and their need for specialized mobile software applications.

Dolphin 7600 - Mobile Handheld PDA

MoblileDataforce focuses on providing mobile software applications, so when hardware companies develop handheld computers that match our focus I am very interested. Hand Held Products (HHP) has recently released a new handheld computer called the Dolphin 7600. This handheld is small, light weight, has extended battery life and a built-in bar code scanner. I particularly like the rubberized edges for easy gripping and added drop protection. It has a 4 foot drop to concrete rating.
It runs on the Windows CE operating system so is completely supported by mobile software applications and mobile software platforms like the PointSync Mobility Platform.
This category of handheld computers (light industrial mobile handheld computers) fits field users who need a mobile computer that can easily fit in their pocket, or on their belt. Something that is easy to handled, but contains all the functionality of the larger industrial handheld computers.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

RFID Solutions on Handheld Computers and PDA at MobileDataforce

Last year at this time MobileDataforce was receiving a lot of questions from companies asking about RFID for use on mobile handheld PDAs and rugged handheld computers. They wanted to know what was possible with RFID. It was an educational process, rather than a buying process. I am happy to say (as the CEO of a software company) that companies are now buying RFID solutions. Today we are involved in numerous RFID solution implementations and projects.

We have implemented RFID ear tags on cattle, we have implemented a number of asset tracking applications, and now we are reviewing a project to add RFID tags to shopping carts. How interesting!

Symbol MC35 - More Smartphones and Handheld PDAs

Ninety-one people looked up Symbol Technologies' MC35 yesterday on Google. That is quite impressive for a new handheld PDA from Symbol. This device includes a phone, Windows Mobile OS, GPS, keypad and much more in a semi-rugged form. It is larger than most consumer devices running pocket pc, but a perfect size for industrial use.
Symbol/Motorola has been rapidly releasing new mobile handheld devices intended for the "mobile" category of workers. The true field services worker who does not want to pack around a large and heavy industrial handheld computer.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Warnings for Companies Considering Mobile Handheld PDA Business Solutions

MobileDataforce is very busy these days helping companies replace old mobile software solutions for handheld PDAs that were based on out-dated Palm or Pocket PC operating systems. Although we appreciate the business, it is worth highlighting this issue for companies considering whether to program/code their own mobile software solution, or use a supported mobile middleware platform like the PointSync Mobility Platform.

Here are some issues to consider:
  1. Is your mobile solution going to be upgraded every year as mobile operating systems and handheld computers are upgraded?

  2. Who is going to be your in-house expert on the latest mobile operating systems and how to support them? It will take an investment of resources to stay current.

  3. When you buy new handheld computers or PDAs, they are generally sold with only the latest most current operating system on them. So how can you buy new handheld computers, unless your mobile solution can run on the latest operating system. Over the life of your mobile software application you may need to upgrade the OS many times.

  4. Often a business unit funded the original mobile software application development project. Are they willing to continue funding your mobile operating system upgrades each year. The answer is most often NO! So how can IT support it after the first year?

  5. One solution to prolonging the life of a mobile software application is to pre-purchase all the handheld computers or PDAs you will ever need. This will ensure that you have the supported hardware and supported operating system available to you over the life of your mobile software application. But let's be real....who is going to fund a pre-purchase of all the hardware you will ever need? No business unit I have ever met. If you find one, let me know...I would like to sell them all the mobile software they will ever need in the future as well.

The most reasonable approach to keeping current with mobile operating systems and the latest handheld computers and PDAs is to develop your mobile handheld application on a supported mobile software platform like MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform. Why? MobileDataforce and other companies that author mobile middleware and mobile development platforms committ to keeping them current on the latest supported operating systems - so you don't have to. The cost of the operating system updates/upgrades are generally covered in your annual support contract. Companies like MobileDataforce employ legions of software developers who are paid to be experts on mobile operating systems and how to keep mobile middleware and mobile software platforms current and updated.

Mobile Clinical Assistant and Inspection Software

One of our customers selected the "Mobile Clinical Asssistant" to use with their mobile inspection software solution. This is an interesting Tablet PC that can come integrated with a barcode scanner and a digital camera. I love the built-in handheld and sealed environment for easy cleaning.

SoMo 650 Socket's New Mobile Handheld PDA

Here is an interesting development in the world of PDAs and bluetooth barcode scanners - Socket, a company that traditionally manufacturers accessories and add-ons for other company's PDAs and handheld computers, has just announced their own PDA called the SoMo 650.
This is an interesting development since sales of stand alone PDAs (those without phone capabilities) have been dropping year-over-year in favor of PDA Phones and Smart Phones (PDAs running on Windows Mobile and other powerful operating systems that included integrated phone capabilities). It will be interesting to see how a new PDA without phone capabilities will sell these days.
I also wonder how this will impact Socket's sales of their bluetooth barcode scanners and other accessories. Other PDA manufacturers will naturally want to avoid referring customers to them out of fear that Socket will sell them the SoMo 650 rather than their iPAQ, XDA, MC35, MC50 or MC75.
Symbol Technologies, Intermec Technologies and many other handheld computer makers are rapidly downsizing handheld computers and releasing smaller versions, but most have integrated phones. These companies have often referred business or resold Socket products...hummmm. They will be very wary of Socket going forward.
Socket must believe they can make more profits by selling PDAs than not. So let the games begin!