Author: Chris DiPierro

Director of Software Development for Mi-Co

2015 Holiday Tech Wish List: Apple’s iPad Pro

iPad Pro

 

What tech is on your 2015 Holiday Wish List?

We've tested the latest mobile technology devices for field workers -- and while it's difficult to choose our favorite -- the good news is that whatever device you or your organization decides to purchase, you'll have the ability to accomplish so much more with less simply by moving from paper to a digital inspection process.

Without further ado, here's our first device review of our short blog series:

Apple's iPad Pro

iPad Pro

A lot has been written about the iPad Pro, especially in regard to replacing your laptop — as implied in November by Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook.

You may have even seen Apple’s latest ads promoting how the iPad Pro’s large clear screen can help you “learn about the universe.” While the new form factor and optional pencil will certainly provide for an enhanced experience, particularly for the creative minded, I haven’t seen much written about how the iPad Pro aims to address the field service industry.

We obtained an iPad Pro on the day it was released, and around the office the initial reaction – as to be expected – was, “wow, that’s large!” But, like kids on Christmas, we quickly downloaded Mi-Forms, Mi-Apps, and Mi-HVAC Apps to the new “toy” and took it for a spin.

Mi-Apps Home Screen

While each of these apps were built before the device existed, they all worked fast and reliably. We were easily able to navigate from page to page in Mi-Forms, and section to section in Mi-Apps. Tapping checkboxes and focusing fields was quick with the larger screen providing a nice finger target.

Mi-HVAC Apps Work Order Form

Mi-HVAC Apps Work Order Form

Using the Mi-Forms’ paper-like interface, the experience was very similar to holding a clipboard. This makes sense because the iPad Pro and a standard piece of paper are about the same size. If field workers are accustomed to the clipboard and pen model of data entry, then this is about as close as you can get to that in a mobile environment.

With that said, the iPad Pro is not without its downsides.

1. As a desk worker, I don’t have to hold a device all day long like field workers do. At over 1.5 pounds, the iPad Pro is a good 65% heavier than the iPad Air 2. While that weight might normally be reserved for battery space due to the larger screen size, the quoted battery life expectancy is the exact same.

2. The onscreen keyboard size is a little too large, which leads to hand fatigue as you’re typing and holding the device. This could make collecting data in the field using touch input wearisome for workers.

3. Standard operating system screens have not been optimized for the larger screen real estate. For instance, while there are still just 4 app icons across the home screen, there’s now a lot of extra padding between each icon.

The good thing about these particular issues is that they can be easily addressed going forward. But right now, it feels a bit like you’re looking at the iPad Air through a giant magnifying glass.

The verdict? In my mind, the iPad Pro fits a niche that certain industries will find very useful. For instance, those interacting with an aging population or those with visual impairment might find this ideal. So too might those who are searching for a true mobile “clipboard” experience.

While it should ultimately come down to the requirements of the job and field worker, as a laptop replacement or primary field service device I would recommend exploring your options. Fortunately, there’s a lot of competition in the space, and we’ll provide a similar review on a couple of those devices in our upcoming mini blog series.

Stay tuned!

Intel + Mi-Co: Mobilizing Workers with Mi-Forms

intel web

intel web

Last year, Intel approached us with an exciting opportunity to tune our software for increased functionality with their 2 in 1 line of convertible devices. You may have seen their advertising around these devices over the last few months.

It presented a great opportunity for us to enhance our Windows mobile form solution Mi-Forms. We chose to update our Mi-Forms menuing system and to enhance touch support within the mobile forms.
After implementing, we were asked by Intel to describe the experience and provide best practices and lessons learned. In our opinion, it was extremely easy to take advantage of Intel’s new APIs in an existing codebase.

Those lessons and specifics of the technical implementation are now published as part of a joint white paper published on Intel’s site. I encourage you to take a few minutes to discover what we did, and see how Intel’s 2 in 1 devices can enhance your productivity.

The end result of these changes are now incorporated into our Mi-Forms v10.1, which you can try for yourself by accessing our demo software.

View White Paper

Mapping in Mi-Forms

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend Esri’s Developer Summit in Washington DC. Aside from a chance to visit the nation’s capital near where I attended school (go Terps!), this provided a great resource for providing details on how to more tightly integrate with Esri’s ArcGIS Platform. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can provide a way to visualize all sorts of data from weather information, to transportation, to light pollution. Esri is a leader in this field and at Mi-Corporation the desire to provide more and better data to our customers is a priority.

The summit focused on how to create customized maps, add features to those maps and then integrate them into both mobile and desktop applications. Esri provides a suite of SDKs designed to drop into web, iOS, Android, and .NET applications. These SDKs communicate with Esri’s REST based APIs as well as offline services in order to allow users to display data on phones, tablets and other computers. A focus on their development community was evident not just from the software they’ve created, but from the large community supporting it.

Feeling energized and ready to use what I learned, I began working to implement Esri’s .NET control in a Mi-Forms form. Using their tutorials, I was able to create a new map form field and provide services from that map such as forward and reverse geocoding, adding graphics, and even get driving directions. The end result was the form below that allows a user to plot inspections on a map and manipulate that map in order to visualize what’s been done, what’s left to do, and how to get where you need to go:

ESRI Blog

This is a preliminary implementation in Mi-Forms, but it shows me that adding powerful GIS services from Esri into our platform is sure to provide a needed and useful feature to our partners and customers. We will be working hard on further integration with Esri in the near future both on Windows and in our iOS/Android offerings. If you’re interested in seeing how it shapes up, I would like to personally invite you to our Mobility Summit where you can have a hands-on with the technology. For now though, I wish you safe travels and as you glance at a map or GPS, think of what data would look good on it.

Microsoft Windows 10: Features We Love

windows 10

windows 10

As you are probably aware, Microsoft debuted its upcoming Windows 10 operating system last Wednesday, January 21, 2015. Although this wasn’t exactly a first look--Windows 10 has been available as a developer preview for a few months--it’s the first time people are starting to pay attention to what’s next on the combination phone, tablet, and desktop OS

MSFT Continuum
One of the more interesting features for users of 2:1 devices might be Microsoft’s “Continuum”. It’s not available in the preview, but if you want to see how it interacts with these powerful 2:1 business machines, you can take a look at this video.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen dynamic UI depending on the mode of a device. Intel started the 2:1 trend and here at Mi-Co, we’ve been embracing it since releasing version 10 of our Mi-Forms software. Still, it’s good to see that users of these do-it-all devices will have an improved experience.

MSFT Cortana

2. Cortana

Of course, one of the larger headlines of the announcement was that Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, will move from Windows Phone to the tablet and desktop. As an owner of a Windows Phone, I have to say I’ve been impressed by Cortana’s ability to not just pick the winners of football games but to help organize my digital life. With a simple tap, I can tell Cortana to remind me to pick up some milk at the store the next time I’m actually AT the store, and I can ask her to analyze restaurant reviews to figure out where I might want to eat when I’m traveling.

Now Microsoft brings Cortana’s intelligent search to your local machine, OneDrive, and other connected networks. Personal digital assistants are going to be a big thing in 2015 and beyond, and Microsoft is leading the charge.

WIndows 10 MSFT Office

3. Microsoft Office App

A Windows machine would be nothing without apps, of course, and here too, Microsoft is making a push. Windows 10 phones and tablets will include a free copy of Office. But this isn’t just taking Office 2007 ported on to a tablet. Indeed using the concept of a universal app, Microsoft has built it to work seamlessly across all of your Windows 10 devices.

The ability to use powerful productivity apps is what makes Windows tablets more than just a toy for the kids. The cross device look and feel is what will make it that much easier to use.

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These are just some of the announced features. If you have the time, we recommend checking out the information right from Microsoft and watching their videos. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you could even get started with a preview.

But if you’d rather sit back and let others work out the kinks, Microsoft’s got you covered. For the first time I can remember, Microsoft will make the upgrade to Windows 10 free for existing Windows 7, 8.1, and Phone 8.1 devices for the first year after release. That’s good news for those who have been waiting to make the move to more modern operating systems from Microsoft.

At Mi-Co, we will of course continue to support new features being added to this Windows release and those in the future. With January off to a hot start, we’re anxious to see what else this year will bring in terms of mobility and hope that you’ll come along for the ride.

2014 Holiday Wish List: Apple, Android & Windows Tablets

2014 holiday

2014 holiday

If you’re reading this blog post, I can only hope that you've already completed your holiday shopping and that your loved ones are not headed for some last minute holiday stuffed animals, address books, fast food gift cards or other “worst gifts”. If that is the case, fortunately I’m here to help.

According to a recent CNET survey, tablets still top people’s Holiday wish lists, with 42% wishing for one and 30% planning to give one. While some people might have a “been there, done that” attitude towards tablets, it pays to take a look at what’s new—and it might even put you on the “nice” list.

Apple Tablets

Apple Air

Obviously you have to start by looking at the Apple iPad Air 2. It’s not a lot different than the iPad Air you might be familiar with, but it’s thinner, packs a higher resolution display and depending on your application can be up to 2.5x faster than the already fast Air. If you’re into photography, the new hardware and software enables all levels of photographers to take stunning pictures. It’s not cheap, starting at $499, but it’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your giftee as they pull it out of its shiny packaging.

Android Tablets

Kindle Fire Image

If you’re more of an Android person, you have more great options than ever before. The Google Nexus 9, running the relatively new Android 5.0 Lollipop, is the premium contender. Featuring an 8.9” display, a 2.3 GHz 64-bit NVidia Tegra K1 processor and either 16/32 GB of storage space, you’re definitely in for a treat. You’ll save a few dollars compared to the iPad with this tablet starting at $399, and if you put one of these in your significant other’s stocking, you might find yourself under the mistletoe before long.

Still on the Android front, if you’re like me and do about 90% of your holiday shopping on Amazon, you’ve undoubtedly seen more than your fair share of ads for all sorts of Kindle Fire devices. The newest and fanciest is the Fire HDX 8.9 which also features an 8.9” display, a super-fast processor and up to 64 GB of storage space. It even weighs less than the iPad Air 2, and certainly with Amazon providing more and more content, it could be a great fit for your everyday tablet or for the family. It starts at $379 and could easily be one of your eight days of gifting. Of course, if you’re looking for something a little cheaper for the kids, consider whether Santa should bring them the Fire HD Kids Edition Tablet, which costs $119 and includes a 2-year worry free guarantee. As the description for this one states, it’s “a real tablet, not a toy,” so your kids can be just like their adult idols when it comes to mobility.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Surface Pro 3

Last, but certainly not least, while it’s easy to get caught up in the fun and games of the holidays, we will all likely make our New Year’s resolutions to be more productive and more efficient. The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 can certainly help make this one resolution you can actually keep. This tablet/laptop/ultrabook hybrid runs Windows 8.1, meaning that all of your productivity apps keep on ticking. At the same time, it’s a great tablet for watching movies, playing games, and keeping in touch with the relatives you’ll see again next year. It starts at $799, but given the amount of functionality that’s packed in--including a high quality handwriting digitizer--it’s actually a bargain when you compare it to more traditional laptops. And who doesn’t like a holiday deal?

If you haven’t already put this blog post aside, quickly unwrapped the hair gel you were planning to give your significant other, and purchased a tablet instead, I hope you’ll at least consider it. While our focus at Mi-Corporation is on mobility productivity, we've also loved seeing tablet adoption into all aspects of life over the last few years. If gifting a tablet makes you a little more popular, so much the better.

We wish you a very happy holiday from our family to yours and we’ll see you with your shiny tablet in the New Year!

AWS Cloud Computing Astonishment

aws

aws

Everyone uses Amazon.

Like me, a lot of people have Amazon Prime, which makes quick home delivery of just about any product you need a reality. But, even if you’ve managed to avoid that temptation, you’re still using Amazon; you just might not realize it. Amazon’s “AWS” cloud computing products launched in 2006, and you’d be hard pressed to use the Internet now without running into it somewhere. Amazon’s own case studies list Expedia, Pinterest, Netflix, Adobe, NASA, and that’s just scratching the surface.

Even if you are familiar with Amazon’s offerings in the space, what you might not be aware of is just how cost-effective cloud computing has become. Recently while conducting some performance testing on the application server that backs our mobile forms platform Mi-Forms, I had the opportunity to explore some of the larger and more exotic offerings. Going into these tests, I basically knew the pricing of a 2 core system with 8GB of memory. That’s the sort of machine we have set up both as our own cloud servers and for our customers. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how much computing resources were available.

Amazon’s EC2 has several tiers of computing resources available, and the system falls squarely in its general purpose computing, costing about 26 cents per hour (~$190/month without any commitment. But what if you want 32 cores and 60 GB of memory? This is the type of resource that in the not-so-distant past was only available to universities and huge corporations. Well, it turns out Amazon can spool up one of those for $3 per hour (~$2160/month), again without commitment. That may sound expensive, but think about what you could do with a machine that--by Amazon’s calculations--is equivalent to over 16 of the typical server machines I previously mentioned.

That type of machine is, of course, overkill for most applications. It  ran through our performance tests in times never seen before either with locally-hosted or cloud-based systems, and if we’re being honest, our test clients couldn’t keep up with the capacity it provided. From some creative searching and looking through references, it seems that this machine is on par from a raw processing power perspective of the Cray X-MP/48, which cost $15 million in 1984.

And of course pricing declines don’t only apply to CPU and memory resources. If you want to provision a quick terabyte of storage, that will only run you $50/month at the most expensive level. Want to throw in load balancing? No problem there either, as even a reasonably high volume site won’t cost more than about $20/month.

With what seems to be a “race to the bottom” in computing resource pricing, cloud computing options are becoming the norm rather than the exception. It’s a challenge to find a good reason to create a complex internal infrastructure rather than taking advantage of one provided for you. Amazon isn’t the only game in town either. Similar computing resources are available from Microsoft Azure for equal or lower cost. Mobile information collection and analysis solutions from Mi-Corporation benefit from resources available in the cloud from and may very well be the right solution to run your business more efficiently.

 Photo source: http://setiquest.org/wiki/index.php/Amazon_Web_Services