MOBILE PEACE OF MIND
TECHNOLOGICAL EQUALITY IS DAWNING AND THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS BAD SMARTPHONES OR TABLETS
BY PETER GREDIG
There was a time when your smartphone said something about the type of person you are. The stereotypes labelled BlackBerry people as serious business types who valued email security over frivolous entertainment. iPhone users just wanted to have fun with music, videos and web surfing. The Android owner was a rebel who rebuffed the “Big Two” and sought to support an upstart and more open mobile operating system.
These classifications now seem silly, since all smartphones now offer comparable features, including processing speeds, cameras, communication tools and GPS functionality. The hyper-competitive smartphone industry creates enormous pressure to match the other guys’ features and take them a notch higher. Android sets the bar because there are multiple manufacturers competing with each other—new phones and tablets are launched constantly, and they are pushing each other by improving existing features and adding new ones. Apple, BlackBerry and Microsoft are keeping pace—they have no choice.
When farmers ask me what they should buy, I tell them it depends on their work and personal life, and how mobile they are. I do almost anything to avoid office time and I travel a fair amount during winter months. For me, the right hardware mix is an up-to-date smartphone (BlackBerry Q10), a 4G-enabled tablet (iPad) and a two-in-one PC laptop/tablet hybrid (Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga). It works in standard mode with a classic keyboard and screen, but the screen folds 180 degrees and it looks and performs like a tablet with a touch screen.
Never say never, but I think I’ve bought my last desktop computer.
App availability is a consideration. The dominance of Apple and Android assures that most apps will be built for both platforms. An increasing number of Android apps can be used on newer BlackBerry 10s, but there are fewer apps built specifically for BlackBerry. Until Windows devices garner more market share, it is difficult for app developers to justify developing versions for Windows phones.
If, however, you rely heavily on Microsoft Windows desktop software, there is an advantage to having a Windows smartphone, tablet (Surface Pro) and laptop that are fully compatible with record-keeping and accounting software.
For me, smartphone selection is more about battery life, keyboard (real or virtual), screen size, durability and ease of use. I stayed with BlackBerry because I wanted the real keyboard, and the Q10 has a beauty. It also offers impressive battery life—I can go almost two days
charges. It’s a great phone, but I’m looking at Android for my next purchase due to a larger app selection and lower price.
Among tablets, the iPad is a proven performer. I have both a standard size iPad and an iPad mini, and, for my purposes, I prefer the compact mini as it is easier to carry when moving between tractor, truck and shop. It will fit in some pockets, and I can hold it in two hands and type with my thumbs—which is harder to do with the big iPad.
There are numerous makes, models and sizes for Android-compatible tablets. Do your homework and find the one that makes the most sense. There are dozens of Android tablets available today that did not exist a year ago. The Google Nexus and Samsung Galaxy tablets have been leaders in this market.
I’m seeing more and more ag equipment companies building apps that take advantage of the tablet’s screen size, wireless ability and processing power. Many of the monitors you currently have cluttering up your tractor cab might be replaced by a tablet.
It makes sense to buy 4G-enabled tablets that can use your cellular network to access the Internet when you’re on the go. If you are comfortable with using a wireless network or tethering your tablet to your cellphone, that’s fine, you don’t have to buy a separate data plan for the tablet. But if you decide an independent and fully mobile tablet is necessary, you have the option.
Don’t agonize over these decisions. It is unlikely that you will use the device for more than two or three years at most. It’s more about how you use the tool than its brand name.
Peter Gredig is a corn, soybean and wheat producer near St. Thomas, ON. He is also a partner in AgNition Inc., a Guelph-based mobile development company focused on building agriculture apps and solutions.