How to Create a Mobile Strategy for Construction

Mobile technology is the future of every industry, and construction is no exception. Increasing processing power, 4G LTE networks, and larger screen ratios have transformed phones and tablets into the ultimate multi-tool.

A 2012 survey of construction professionals by JBKnowledge found the majority of respondents considered mobile technology to be 'not very important.' Four years later, their 2016 survey found almost 80% of respondents felt mobile technology was either important' or 'very important.'

How Important Are Mobile Capabilities to Construction?

pie chart of the imporance of mobile technology in construction in 2012
pie chart of the imporance of mobile technology in construction in 2016

These changing attitudes prove that your competitors likely already have a mobile strategy in place. If you don’t, they're already outpacing you. If you do, now's the perfect time to review it and further solidify your lead.

An effective mobile strategy is critical for three reasons:

- It keeps you on the cutting edge of modern technology, ensuring you stay ahead of the curve.

- It increases adoption of software across your entire company.

- It's essential to streamlining real-time data collection.

Phones and tablets power today's most advanced construction software. If you're not leveraging and monitoring their use, much of your IT spending could be wasted.

There are five basic steps to implementing a mobile strategy, and you want to make sure to get them right. This post will walk you through everything you need to know to make you construction firm a mobile powerhouse.

1. Evaluate Your Software

When trying to figure out a mobile strategy, people often get caught up deciding between Android and iOS, which carrier to go with, the best device manufacturer, etc. If there is one thing to remember from this guide, it's that hardware is an inconsequential part of a mobile strategy: finding good equipment is easy, finding the right software is not.

Unearth's construction software on a tablet
Unearth's simple, yet powerful map-based software

The most important piece of a mobile strategy will always be choosing your software. Without the right software, a phone is not much more than a glorified camera that makes calls and browses the web. Mobile devices are a means to an end, the end being widespread adoption of software across your construction sites.

Many companies have grandfathered in software from a time when mobile technology didn’t exist. And many of these options simply haven’t kept up with the rapidly developing mobile hardware of today.

With the rise of cloud-based software and the Internet of Things (IoT), the majority of modern software is built with a mobile-first strategy, meaning the mobile version is built before the desktop version to ensure a flawless mobile experience. It can be overwhelming to think about changing software, but if you want to keep up, you’re likely going to have to bite that bullet at some point.

We won’t go into the details of choosing software for your company here, if you want more information on that check out our Construction Software Buying Guide. However, if you already have construction software, you should review it for a couple important points. Ask yourself:

Do the people who work remotely have mobile access to the software they need?

The easiest way to answer this question is to see if your software has an iOS, Android, or Web App. If it doesn’t, then it’s not mobile friendly and your remote staff can't access it from a phone or tablet. You'll probably need to look for a better solution.

Are people using the mobile capabilities of your software?

Just because a software has mobile support, does not mean it's built well. Often times companies will treat mobile as an afterthought, making the interface too cumbersome for people to use. Make sure your software company practices mobile-first design.

Are there processes being done in the office that could be done faster in the field?

If your people in the field could be completing forms or data collection in realtime, but instead are sending it in emails or waiting until they get back to the office, you don't have all the software you need.

Is there data people need to access 24/7 that cannot be accessed on mobile devices?

Delays in construction are often the result of not being able to get the right information to the right people as efficiently as possible. If you don't have software that enables realtime communication and collaboration on mobile devices, then you're at risk for hitting needless delays.

Do you have any manual procedures that could be digitized with mobile technology?

Not only are pen and paper procedures inefficient, they are much more difficult to track. One of the chief benefits of mobile technology is the ability to capture, upload, and organize data in realtime. If you still have analog processes, you need to look at finding the right software to digitize them.

If you’re not satisfied with your software or it does not provide mobile options, you need to spend some time thinking about how you’re going to change it. There’s no point in choosing mobile hardware yet, because the devices you choose will depend on the requirements of your software.

However, if you know that your software does what you want and has a mobile friendly or mobile-first platform, then you can start moving on to the basics of choosing your hardware.

2. Choose a Mobile Operating System

There are only two options to consider when choosing a mobile operating system and they affect which hardware you can purchase: iOS or Android.

There's no right or wrong answer, the decision depends on your firm's size and focus. Consider these questions to figure out your best option:

Which platforms does your software of choice support?

This may be the only thing you have to ask yourself. If you're happy with your software, and it only supports mobile functionality for one of these operating systems, then you can skip the rest of this step and move down to choosing your hardware. However, we would strongly suggest looking for something that supports more than just one OS.

Otherwise, look into the following technical specifications:

Does your software use a web app, native apps, or both?

You have two main options when running software from a phone, it can either be accessed through a mobile web browser (e.g. Chrome or Safari), or it can be accessed from a native app, an application downloaded from the Play Store or App Store.

Does your software offer full feature parity across its apps?

Many companies support multiple apps, but because of staffing and budgeting constraints, they only offer full features on one of them. So, just because a company offers an Android and an iOS app, doesn’t mean that they have the same functionality. You should make sure that whatever OS you choose will receive the latest updates and features of your software.

If you have still options on which OS to choose after going through the technical questions above, you can try and answer some of the following more general questions to get an idea of what system will work best for you:

What is everyone else using?

visualization of which mobile operating systems are most popular in construction

Following the crowd isn’t always great advice, but in this case it’s important to consider.

As of 2016, JBKnowledge reports that over 45% of construction professional use iOS. So, if you’re partnering with subcontractors and other firms, there is a good chance that they will be on iOS, and it could be helpful for you to be on the same platform.

How much are you willing to spend on hardware?

Apple products tend to be much more expensive than Android products. And, if you’re going to be purchasing equipment for your employees, pricing will come into play. This is especially important because construction sites are brutal on electronics, so you will likely replace them semi-frequently. Set a target for how much you are willing to spend and see how far that will get you with the different devices available.

How much flexibility do you want when purchasing hardware?

Android has by far the most devices to choose from. If you choose iOS, you will only be able to purchase Apple hardware. Apple does a fantastic job with their devices, but they are expensive and don’t offer near the range of options that Android devices do. For example, if you want a headphone jack, you won’t be able to get one in any new model Apple phone.

Are you interested in VR/AR capabilities?

image of AR app on iPad showing a blueprint

Virtual reality and augmented reality are relatively new technologies that are making their way into the construction industry. It's not clear which mobile OS will better support AR and VR, but it looks like Android might take the lead. If you’re planning on making use of these technologies, then you may want to consider this when picking an OS.

If you’ve followed these steps, you should have a good idea of which OS you'd like. If you're still debating, you can move ahead to equipment selection and let that be the deciding factor. Just remember that you have to make sure your software works with whatever platform you pick.

3. Decide Between Company Devices and BYOD

Before you start purchasing devices, you need to decide who you are going to purchase them for and who you are going to let bring their own.

This decision is highly dependent on the size of your firm and your personal business goals, but there are a few solid guidelines you can follow:

Have several tablets available per site.

Tablets are the workhorse of your construction site. Depending on how many people are on your project, you should have several available that can be used at any time for communication, collaboration, and analysis.

Purchase personal devices for Project Managers and Superintendents.

PMs and Supers are the leaders of your project. They need the best mobile devices, as progress often hinges on their decisions and communication.

Purchase mobile devices for anyone that works with secure data.

IT security can be essential in construction, and difficult to manage if you don't own the mobile devices that are downloading and uploading your data. If security is paramount to your business, you should consider purchasing personal devices for everyone that needs remote access to this data. By doing so, you can have an IT consultant ensure that all devices are secure and monitored.

Don't go overboard.
Bar chart of personal device use on construction sites

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a popular and common policy for many construction firms, and it should work well for anyone who has modern software.

JBKnowledge's 2016 survey found that 41% of respondents had used a personal phone on the job site and 35% had used a personal tablet. The numbers were higher for company provided devices, but it primarily depends on the size and nature of your business. Just keep in mind that you don't have total control over the security of personal devices.

4. Pick Your Equipment

Now that you know your operating system and who is going to get a company device, you can move on to thinking about which manufacturers you'll purchase from.

image of crossed out ruggedized cell phone

The first thing people often think when purchasing a mobile device for construction is that they need durability, and there are a number of phones and tablets out there that claim to be extra durable construction phones. We highly recommend NOT purchasing these phones, as they typically sacrifice performance for durability.

More than anything, the best mobile devices for construction will have a long battery life, consistent OS updates, and fast performance. Durability is great, but you can make a device durable by purchasing a case. Your best options will always be some of the most popular devices from major manufacturers. You want a company with a proven track record of providing a high-quality product with reliable updates.

There are a number of options that fit these recommendations, but here are our top suggestions for the best phone and tablet from each OS category.

Best Android Devices for Construction (Updated 2021)

samsung galaxy xcover pro
Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro

Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro

  • Screen: 6.3" FHD+ TFT, GG5
  • Resolution: 2340 x 1080
  • Processor: Exynos 9611 Octa-Core
  • Ram: 4 GB
  • Internal Storage: 64GB + MicroSD
  • Camera: 25 MP Rear + 13 MP Front
  • Price: $424.99

This Samsung phone has the cutting edge performance and reliability you need for daily performance on a construction site. It comes with the added benefit of some additional dust-proofing and shock protection.

samsung galaxy tablet active 3
Samsung Galaxy Tab Active3

Samsung Galaxy Tab Active3

  • Screen: 8" TFT LCD, WUXGA
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1200
  • Processor: 2.7Ghz, 1.7Ghz, Octa-Core
  • Ram: 4 GB
  • Internal Storage: 64GB + MicroSD
  • Camera: 13MP Rear + 5MP Front
  • Price: $416.49

We chose another Samsung product because it has excellent performance, durability, and security for the right price. As a workhorse tablet, you can keep several of these around and not worry about incurring significant costs if they're damaged.

Best iOS Devices for Construction (Updated 2021)

apple iphone 12 pro max
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

iPhone 12 Pro Max

  • Screen: 6.7" Super Retina XDR display
  • Resolution: 2532 x 1170
  • Processor: 3.1GHz A14 Bionic chip
  • Ram: 6 GB
  • Internal Storage: 128, 256, or 512GB
  • Camera: 12 MP Rear + 12 MP Front
  • Price: From $1099 (Depends on Internal Storage)

One thing with Apple is that you know whichever device you purchase will be reliable and long-lasting. We would recommend the iPhone 12 Pro Max if you want the newest offering and need a larger screen (just be sure to buy a durable case and screen protector), but you can also purchase a previous iPhone generation for a more affordable option.

Apple ipad pro
Apple iPad Pro

iPad Pro

  • Screen: 11" Liquid Retina display or 12.9" Liquid Retina XDR display, depending on model
  • Resolution: 2388 x 1668
  • Processor: Apple M1 chip, 8-core CPU with 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores, 16-core Neural Engine
  • Ram: 8 GB or 16 GB, depending on storage
  • Internal Storage: 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB, or 2 TB
  • Camera: 8 MP Rear + 1.2 MP Front
  • Price: From $799 or $1099, depending on model size

We think the 11" Apple iPad Pro is the best choice for construction based on its size and power. However, some people do find it too large to use on site and prefer an earlier generation iPad with a smaller screen.

Assess your budget and consider how you'll be using your iPad and whether you'll need a smaller, more portable device or want to leverage a larger canvas and more advanced specs. Notably, earlier generations are much more affordable, starting at $300-$400.

5. Review and Revise

Technology is constantly evolving and your mobile strategy should grow with it. You need to set a time to regularly review your plans and make sure they are performing the way you want. You should evaluate:

1. Response Times

2. Workflow

3. Productivity

4. Cashflow

5. Equipment Tracking

6. Compliance

All of these things should be improving over time. In addition, you should be sure to track your IT spending to make sure that you're getting value for your money and not burning cash on unused or needless products and software.

This process of review is going to be different for each company. What's important is that you set forth metrics and goals that matter and then check in regularly to ensure you are meeting or exceeding them.

To optimize your mobile strategy, be sure to check out our construction articles on cloud computing, the Internet of Things, and collaboration technology.

Interested in other innovative tech? Consider getting started with drones or GIS.

Improve field adoption with modern mobile tools

When equipping field workers with mobile devices, it's critical they have software they can actually use.

See how Unearth can transform communication and improve mobile adoption in your project with OnePlace for Civil Construction.

Unearth's map-based software provides a more intuitive way to document your project and collaborate with stakeholders. Equip your field teams with easy-to-use mapping tools, multi-layered maps, data collection forms, and real-time communication.

Use satellite imagery as a base layer before pinning a plan to its real-world location, geo-locating thousands of photos, and viewing the status of field work - inspections or permitting, for instance - in real-time. For even more context, geo-reference your 360 photos, BIM models, and drone imagery.

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