Great Questions and Answers!

Recently I facilitated a couple of workshops in Edmonton that covered the field use of tablet computers. After the workshops one of the participants posed some good questions and I would like to share with you, along with my responses.

Pad in helicopter
Duct tape in a helicopter? Sure.

One of the questions was related to the use of tablet computers as an aid for navigation in a helicopter.  I think the photo left does a nice job of illustrating the value of these devices for this purpose.  On a job we did last year the pilot found the iPad so useful that we used duct tape to secure an it to the dash in the helicopter – we made the pilot’s view of the instrument panel was not obstructed!

Thanks again for your tablet workshop last Friday. That was really instructive. Here are some questions I had from my colleagues, I was wondering if you can help me with some of them:

We are using GIS software Mapinfo within our laptops during field helicopter inspections. This allows us to see a fairly basic map scrolling on the screen with a real time GPS device showing our location (kind of like a car GPS but much simple). Is it conceivable to do this on iPad?  Is it compatible with mapinfo files or esri files (arcGIS). We do not want to use cell phone connections there.

Answer: For the purpose you describe Avenza’s PDF Maps would be far superior to GIS software on a laptop.  PDF maps is available for both Android and Apple devices. Get your GIS analysts to make you a Geo-Referenced PDF and bring it into the App for use or purchase a suitable map from within the App.  For Tablet PCs or Android devices Terrago has a great application that works with “GeoPDFs”. To enable all of the necessary features you will need to purchase an ARC GIS extension that allows the maps to be produced in a proprietary format.   Have a look at my blog for a short story that describes the use of iPads for helicopter navigation.

Is there a bluetooth device in the iPad?

Yes all iPads come equipped with Bluetooth capability.

What is the best external GPS that would “hook” to it. …through blue tooth ..or is there a better way?

I would recommend the Garmin Glo as it works well with the iPad and has both GPS and Glonass capability.  It works a little better than the GPS built into the iPad. You should get an accuracy of +/- 5 m 90% of the time when you have a good view of the sky.  In forested areas expect +/- 15 m 90% of the time.  If you need better accuracy than this you will need to get a something like a receiver made by SX Blue.  They currently have high accuracy Bluetooth enabled receivers for Android, Tablet PCs, and very soon for Apple devices.

I have heard of an application called : GISPRO-AP which works with an external device called BADELF. Would you know if it is good, reliable etc… ?

As far as I know BadElf only works with the GPS (American) satellites.  If you will always have a good view of the sky a then having Glonass capability will be less important.  However, if you will be working in areas with a poor view of the sky (canyons, forested areas) Glonass capability provides a big improvement in position accuracy and reliability.

If we have a d-base program with field forms produced by File Maker Pro, is it hard to use same dbase though iPad?  Does it need a lot of high tech expertise to transfer files?

I think it would be relatively inexpensive to move the forms onto an iPad.  However, it depends on the complexity of the forms.  There are many great solutions available for managing forms on all platforms.  In an environment where you will have multiple users feeding data into a corporate database I would recommend that you consider “SNAP” by JRP solutions for Android and Apple devices.  For Tablet PCs consider “Task Safe”.  Be careful if you decide to pursue the development of an in-house solution for managing database applications.  It will almost always cost you more than purchasing a solution provided by a company that does it for a business.

Many are using Panasonic tablet FS ..(?) ; they work with magnetic field (from fingers) and it works even with plastic cover on and under the rain. Is this possible with iPad? What do you think of that tablet?

Panasonic makes excellent tablets and ruggedized tablets.  However the total cost is about 4 times what you will spend on an iPad in a LifeProof water proof case.  You can afford to break a few iPads.  If you are happy with the iPads stick with them.  If your IT department really want you to switch to Windows tablets consider the 10” Dell Latitude in a Griffin Survivor case or a ruggedized Motion tablet for $1200.  Either will likely work well for you and are much lower cost than a completely ruggedized tablet PC – and these lower cost devices rarely fail.  The cost of the Windows tablet versus an iPad may be higher as the software can be more expensive.  However, if the Windows tablet replaces your desktop/laptop computer then it may be a lower cost solution.  It really depends on the environment you are using the tablet computer in and the cost of the applications you require.  You should also consider what it will cost if the device fails.  And yes an iPad will work in the rain.

Will there be a new iPad coming up shortly on then market? Should we wait for it before to buy any?

If it was my business I would not wait.  I would purchase refurbished iPad 3 with WiFi and 3G or the iPad Mini.  Most field users do not need the latest tablet to get good value out of it.

Don’t spend too much time over thinking this.  A Tablet PC, iPad, or an Android device will all work well and pay for themselves very quickly.  If you did decide to go with an iPad now and then in a year you decided to switch a Tablet PCs the iPads will be long ago paid for in labour savings and you will have some experience that will help you determine what you really need from a Windows tablet.  A little time for the Windows tablet hardware, operating system and software to mature would not be a bad thing either.

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