Beyond Email: 5 Functions Coming to Mobile Apps
The scope of business functions that can be accomplished via mobile apps continues to grow.
Despite all the hype around mobile applications, the predominant functions continue to be organizing business contacts, scheduling, keeping a task list and assigning work to specific employees. And as was apparent in our earlier article, sales is a hot area for mobile apps.
The good news, however, is that mobile apps are widening in scope to take care of actions like office productivity, video, content management and soon just about everything else, as the five following apps show:
BrainShark’s SlideShark is a free app for showing PowerPoints on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. With 1.5 million downloads, its rating has been consistently high in the Apple App Store.
Users include NASA, which used PowerPoint content with embedded videos to prepare its astronauts for asteroid exploration. Trainees on the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) mission last summer were able to view the PowerPoints and embedded videos from their iPads – while living 62 feet below sea level for 12 days and when Internet access was unavailable.
"In addition to letting users view and present PowerPoints with fonts, animations, graphics, hyperlinks and videos intact, SlideShark serves as a platform for securely distributing, tracking and managing presentations in the cloud," said Andy Zimmerman, Brainshark’s chief marketing officer.
A broadcasting feature was recently added that sends slides live over the Web and invites people in meetings to view them in real time. Attendees, whether across the table or across the globe, can follow along from any Internet-connected device (desktop/laptop, smartphone or tablet) – no downloads necessary. Once they’ve joined the broadcast on their Web browser, they can view slides as they’re advanced. Presenters get alerts when someone enters or exits a broadcast.
Bigtincan is all about mobile content management. It provides organizations with tracking concerning which content is used most and for how long, and it also scores content based on its effectiveness during a sale. It allows companies to push fresh content to employees in the field without users having to manually sync every time. Those using it remotely can search for keywords to pinpoint the information they need most.
The latest feature is the ability to interact with multiple documents at the same time.
"You've been able to multitask documents using a multi-tabbed viewer with browsers and apps, and now you can do this on a mobile device," said Patrick Welch, president and COO of bigtincan. "With Word, Excel or PowerPoints, for example, you can switch between tabs while preserving any rendering, editing or annotations."
He pointed to Hologic, Inc., a manufacturer of surgical/diagnostic products and medical imaging systems, as a company that has been using the app for nearly a year to boost its productivity in the field.
Sage is preparing to extend its ERP products in a big way via a series of mobility features. Erik Kaas, vice president of Product Management for Sage North America, said that the Sage Mobile Service will allow companies that have field service technicians to deliver work orders to field reps on an iPhone. The rep can access details, update and complete the work order and swipe a credit card to take payment or send to the office for invoicing. This mobile app is directly integrated with the data stored in Sage 100 ERP and Sage 300 ERP.
Interdyne Corp., a provider of emergency hazardous waste cleanup services with 50 field technicians, worked with Sage during the development cycle of this mobile app. According to Kaas, it saved them at least an hour per day in back-and-forth phone calls about customer details and work being done outside the office.
Instagram video capabilities and Skype video messaging are big items in the consumer space. Now video is beginning to be leveraged in enterprise apps where security, quality of services and support for a range of devices are important factors. One firm working in this direction is Kony.
"Eventually video capability will reach every single screen that is out there today, including TVs, desktops, tablets, phones, car screens and wearable devices," said Sri Ramanathan, CTO of Kony.
A use case example is the health care industry. Going forward, a patient can take a video of his or her health issue and send it to their doctor for an offline diagnosis. The doctor can then respond in a few ways, whether it's via email, embedding a video into a message or pushing it through a mobile app; all of the features need to be supported with this type of messaging regardless of device type. This is why a multi-channel approach is important.
Xamarin is a mobile development company that must be doing something right as it just surpassed the 350,000 member mark. It also just received $16 million from the venture capital world. This success is built on the foundation that mobile apps will outnumber PC-based apps by four to one by 2015, according to Gartner.
Customers include Kimberly-Clark Professional, Clear Channel, Haliburton and WebMD. Kimberly-Clark Professional, a workplace safety specialist, uses the platform to bring a variety of wide range of apps to mobile devices.
Nat Friedman, CEO of Xamarin, said he is seeing an increase in businesses incorporating augmented reality (AR) into apps. AR incorporates multiple mobile capabilities such as location, accelerometer, camera and real-time data integration.
"We have multiple customers incorporating AR into field service apps, enabling field technicians to have much greater access to highly contextual information," he said. "This saves time, as information is surfaced automatically based on the device’s field of view vs. the technician having to manually identify a point of interest and search data sources to get information. We also have customers incorporating AR into wearable devices, enabling technicians to be hands-free to conduct important operational or repair tasks."
As can be seen from the range of apps covered above, mobile technology is widening its scope dramatically. And many expect them to become all pervasive. “In the near future, every business process and customer interaction will happen on a mobile device,” Friedman said.
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).