PHOENIX — Do you have a smartphone? How about a tablet computer, such as the iPad? What do you mostly use them for? Playing games or watching YouTube videos? If so, then you’re missing out on one of the most radical changes to hit the HVAC construction and sheet metal industry in some time, says Rob McKinney of JBKnowledge Inc.  

McKinney calls himself a construction app “guru,” and says your Android or iOS devices are for a lot more than watching cat videos or playing Angry Birds. 

McKinney, a former safety director who still likes to wear an orange safety vest, gave a presentation Oct. 17 during the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association’s annual convention on using the applications for smartphones and tablets in your construction business. He said construction technology goes back to biblical times with the use of primitive tools to make work easier. And he said that computers in the 1950s, handheld calculators in the 1960s up through the development of Blackberry phones with email capabilities in the late 1990s have all made the work of contractors easier. 

However, these developments paled to the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. What many people think of as the first modern smartphone finally made it as easy to work on the job site as at a desk? The first successful tablet computer — the iPad — in 2010 revolutionized the industry even more, he said. 

“These are cool devices,” McKinney said. “They’re really changing how we work.” 

But proving that there’s a reason that the construction industry has a reputation for being slow to change, McKinney said many contractors he talks to are reluctant to invest a small amount in technology while they drive to construction sites in $50,000 pickup trucks. 

McKinney cited a study that said 41 percent of contractors say they don’t know how much their companies spend on technology. An even larger percentage estimated that they spend less than 1 percent of revenue on technology.

“If you don’t put (technology) in there now, when are you going to put it in?” he said. “Are apps really here to stay? I’m here to tell you that yes they are.” 

When it comes to selecting apps for your company, McKinney said that some are free, others have to be paid for, and a few others are a hybrid: They’re free to download but cost to use. Some apps offer all-in-one platforms while others are created to perform specific tasks. Among the software products McKinney likes are Safesite ( and iAuditor ( for safety practices, FieldAware ( for service management, PlanGrid ( for project coordination and NoteVault ( construction reporting — you can dictate and share notes.