You turn on the TV or look at the online ads and it looks so easy. The person just opens their device -- Surface, tablet, cellphone, etc. -- and starts working with a smile on their face. If only it were that easy. I still remember a call just a few years ago from a client who had just purchased about a dozen tablets. They were so frustrated that none of them would connect to the internet when they were out in the field. Turns out they had not purchased a data package. It just never occurred to them to ask about a data package. They thought, you buy the devices, turn them on, set up a user, and you're off and working.
So, for all of the mobile devices, a data package or Wi-Fi is required in order to access the internet. There are a number of options depending on the type of device you intend to use. That takes us back to the original question, 'Which device?'
Android and iOS phones are amazing "computers" that also have phone capabilities. Android phones tend to be less expensive than iOS with regard to hardware. The iOS phones, however, provide a more uniform user experience because they are made by Apple. Android phones have many manufacturers, so there are differences in the user experience, but that also means more competition and usually more options. To reduce frustration and limit the learning curve time for the field personnel, we recommend you stick with cellphones that are most familiar to the users. There are a lot of business apps for both platforms, so the user experience and cost are the two driving decision factors.
Phone versus Tablet
If your field personnel are used to paper, using large screens, and scrolling, tablets will be adopted more quickly and with less grumbling. The screens are larger than phones', making Excel or Word more usable. The trade is that if you choose a tablet, they'll also need a phone for calls -- two devices for one person. The tablet will require a data plan or wireless access in order to perform its functions. A cellphone can often be used as a mobile hot spot for the tablet which might help limit the number of required data plans for the user with both devices. Plan on buying a case for the tablet and other large mobile devices to protect your investment. Otterbox and LifeProof are two of the biggest names in ruggedized cases.
The Microsoft Surface can be a great tool for someone who really needs a workstation in field, something with business-specific software, and other features specific to using a workstation. These devices require internet access, so wireless internet or a mobile hot spot is needed, but watch out for data package sizes on the cellphone hot spot. If you're not monitoring the data usage, you could end up with quite the overage fee when using the hot spot. Some models of the Surface have a data plan option, so ask specific questions and get pricing.
• Catherine Wendt is president of Syscon Inc., a technology solutions business based in Hinsdale.