5 Mobile Tech Predictions for Field Service in 2013

This time a year ago, we were predicting that 2012 would be the “Year of Mobility” in field service — not exactly an out-on-a-limb prediction, but an accurate one in retrospect.  This go around, mobile will certainly continue to be a big theme for field service companies, but now we’re more focused on the specifics. How to transform formerly paper-heavy operations into mobile-ready apps? What exactly is the ROI? And what devices will ultimately prove most popular: iPad or Nexus? Rugged or consumer? Native apps or Web apps? BYOD or corporate-liable?

Shifting through all the end-of-year technology predictions on the Web, we’ve picked out five ideas about the direction of mobile technology that matter for field service:

1. Bigger Phones, Smaller Tablets

Apple’s latest iPhone has a 4.5-inch screen. Its “Mini” iPad has a 7-inch screen. And somewhere between the two lies the perfect “phablet” size.

With a number of other smaller tablets (Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Samsung’s Nexus 7) on the market already — and IDC predicting even more to come — along with a glut of large-screen smartphones like the Galaxy Note II (5.5-inch), it appears that phones and tablets are on a collision course, leading CNET’s Christopher MacManus to write that “if one thing seems certain, next year should play out as the year when most high-end smartphones features a 5-inch screen.”

For field service companies that’s good news. Mobile paperless operations have become fairly commonplace for many organizations, but they can be hard to fulfill on a small screen. Something large enough to read and write on, but small enough to fit in a back pocket seems to be the missing tool for field-based technicians.

2. A Cheaper iPhone

Here’s a more ambitious prediction, courtesy of Berenberg Capital Markets technology hardware analyst Adnaan Ahmad, as quoted on Forbes’ website: Apple will launch a “mini,” cheaper version of its iPhone.

“We think that it is inevitable that Apple launches a tailored, low-cost iPhone in 2013 to address the burgeoning mass market opportunity. …The issue Apple faces is one of growth. Given that the high-end is a maximum of 20-25 percent of the market and that Apple’s global smartphone share is in the 15-20 percent range, it can only grown by another 5 percent in this market category unless it prices its existing product cheaper (read lower margins) or develops a completely new tailored solution.”

Given that Apple represents one of the top two device makers out there (along with Samsung), expect that any low-price iPhone will become a quick  hit, especially for businesses who don’t need the full functionality of a smartphone.

3. Fewer BYOD Devices

Most people expect the bring-your-own-device trend to continue right into 2013 — indeed many large organizations have started mandating it. But before you start setting up device reimbursement plans for all your workers, consider the possibility that the trend reverses itself.

“The reality is that the support costs, compliance risks, and usage reimbursement typically lead to a higher total cost of ownership with no discernible return on investment or productivity gains,” Nucleus Research said in a recent research note. “As enterprise CFOs take a closer look at the true pros and cons of BYOD in 2013, they will seek to pursue the most fiscally responsible option: corporate-based accounts.”

Better start buying more company devices?

4. More Mobile Windows

This one’s basically a no-brainer: It’s make-or-break time for Windows in the mobile device market. Research firm IDC pointed out as much in its yearly predictions, noting that both Windows and Research in Motion (BlackBerry’s parent company) both face a big hurdle: App developers aren’t exactly frothing at the mouth to start designing apps for them. Without a healthy app store, they’re each unlikely to make much traction in the consumer or enterprise market.

However, if Windows is able to gain a foothold in the tablet and smartphone market, its legacy in the enterprise would seem to make it an attractive product for many field-based operations. TabTimes also reports that three new Surface tablets are likely to emerge in 2013, so it’s clear Windows is all-in.

5. Greater Cyber Security

This great rush toward mobile computing is opening new opportunities for computer hackers, too. Expect to hear a bunch in the coming year about madware, ransomware, and any number of other -wares we don’t even know about yet. Most critically, cloud-stored data seems a likely target for hackers, so start getting serious about mobile security.

More: How 4G and Data Sharing Can Boost Field Service Techs.

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ABOUT Ian Stewart

Ian is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.