The more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s an old cliché and it applies to almost everything in life, including mobile technology. While there are many wireless devices that field personnel use to stay in touch with other people and access information, it seems that the most popular device remains the cell phone, at least according to some members ofThe NEWS’HVAC contractor panel.

Cell phones are pretty new technology. The first phones went into use in the early 1980s. Of course, the purpose of the cell phone back then was only to make phone calls. What a novel idea. Today, with the popularity of smart phones, making an actual phone call is just a fraction of what people are using cell phones for.

New phones link users to the Internet, which is the portal to news, information, and entertainment. The new cell phones have become an essential link for business communications as well as a way for users to connect with nonbusiness activities, including games and social networking. But for the purpose of this discussion, the business use of cell phones will be highlighted.

Russ Donnici of Mechanical Air Service Inc. is a big fan of the Apple iPhone. He explained why: “You get the normal phone features. However, you can rotate it and see more of whatever you are reading. It takes great pictures. You can store equipment manuals on it for units you work on, including diagrams.

“It can also be used as a mobile hot spot so you can connect your iPad or laptop through the phone. You can have multiple e-mail addresses report to the phone, too.”

Apps — mobile applications — have become a generic part of the English language these days and many smart phones like the iPhone can display thousands of these apps, some of which directly link the phone user to a website. For example, users can connect directly to their bank via a bank app and do all of their banking (minus cash withdrawals) via their phone. Many of these apps are free to download and use while others can be purchased for minimal fees.

“The Apple iPhone is user friendly and has a huge app market,” said Arthur Pickett of Royal Air Systems. “And our industry is using it more than any other product out there.”

Aaron York of Aaron York’s Quality A/C said the use of cell phones is not limited to the field. “We use cell phones to text message, which seems to be an effective way to cut down on the time used for our land lines,” he said. “This seems to work very well for us.”

Morphing into a Tablet

Donnici referred to the connectivity between the iPhone and iPad, a relatively new device that has morphed out of smart phone technology and that has been replicated by many manufacturers including Samsung, Dell, Motorola, and Toshiba, to name a few.

The tablets have a much larger screen than a cell phone, making it easier to view videos, read diagrams, or even read a book. “We managers use the Wi-Fi version of the iPad without the phone connection fees,” Donnici said. “It’s much easier to read a diagram on it, especially since my eyes are getting worse.”

Bart Gedeon works with Ken Bodwell at Innovative Service Solutions. He noted that tablets are replacing the more commonly used mobile products. “The traditional approach is to equip a person with a laptop and cellular modem of some sort,” Gedeon said. “This allowed the employee to use either a VPN or terminal service software to access the company’s network and the resources that they need.

“Tablets, such as the iPad, are starting to replace laptops for this function. The cellular modems are typically built into the tablet so there is no need for the external modem. The tablets can use either a VPN or terminal service program to connect the company’s network just like a laptop. The tablets are more lightweight and less bulky than laptops, making them more portable. The battery life is typically better, too, so you don’t have to worry about finding a plug to charge it after a few hours. The touch-screen interface and sleek design give the user a flashy, tech-savvy appearance. For quick access on-the-go tablets are going to be the wave of the future.”

Larry Taylor of AirRite A/C said his company uses a Mirus notebook, which has functions similar to a tablet. “We are using a small Mirus touch screen with keyboard that swivels as we do not run any other programs on it except the Shafers Mobile Manager software,” he said. “In addition, we Wi-Fi to our hot-spot phones and Bluetooth to our printers because that is what works best with our software.”

More Morphs to Come

The future of mobile applications seems to center around the growing popularity of streaming video. According to a report at, mobile data use grew by 77 percent for the first half of 2011 and accounted for 22 percent of that. MobileTrends Report noted “Video streaming grew 93 percent for that period and is the largest single application taking up bandwidth. Some 39 percent of mobile bandwidth is consumed by video.”

Besides the entertainment factor, there are literally millions of how-to videos on popular websites like — videos where field technicians can learn how to troubleshoot or repair equipment, for example. The videos stream directly to cell phones, tablets, and notebooks, making viewing possible from any location that receives a Wi-Fi signal.

Another future trend — which is here now — is using an outside hosting company to manage company data. Employees in the field who have been used to connecting to an internal company network are now viewing data via cloud computing. Apple and Google are two examples of companies offering cloud services whose servers are accessible via any wireless connection. “This process minimizes that amount of setup that needs to be done on phones and tablets,” said Gedeon. “Cloud computing allows many users to access shared documents online without any special setup or access.”

Regardless of the source of information, the preferred method to access it is via cell phones, tablets, and notebooks. And the next generation of mobile devices will share the same end result as the present one: access to information.

After all, information is power, to quote another old cliché.

Publication date: 08/22/2011