Originally published in Interiors & Sources

12/30/2013

Mobile Apps: The Ultimate in HVAC Control

Gain functionality in the field and away from the office

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HVAC mobile apps helps you remain in control.

The same tablet or smartphone you use to kill time at the airport or in the doctor’s office could add value to your HVAC maintenance.

Thanks to a handful of app innovations, mobile technology makes it easier to monitor your facility’s HVAC system while you’re out on a service call or troubleshoot while you head to the source of a problem.

“The nice thing about using mobile apps is that you can get instant feedback, as opposed to writing down information in the field, entering it into a desktop app later, and then getting results,” notes Stephen Roth, principal for Carmel Software, which develops mobile, desktop, and web-based software for HVAC and engineering applications. “These days, people are used to getting information right away.”

Could a mobile solution help drive HVAC efficiency in your facility?

The Great Debate: Smartphones vs. Tablets

Where to Buy

Official Multi-Vendor Outlets: Offerings in the App Store (Apple iOS) or Google Play (Android) markets are often compatible with a variety of HVAC vendors and levels of knowledge. Check out customer reviews and screencaps to see what fits best.

Equipment and Control Vendors: Manufacturers can be a rich source for low-cost or free apps. Some are brand-specific – think user manuals and documentation for your existing equipment – while some could work for multiple brands, such as comfort calculators.

Associations: Investigate the websites of professional organizations for vendor-neutral apps. ASHRAE, for example, offers a handful of apps, including an interactive psychrometric chart, a duct fitting database, and searchable versions of standards with built-in calculators.

With a plethora of apps and screen sizes available for both phones and tablets, it can be tough to determine which technology best meets your needs. Ben Fowler, a commissioning engineer for energy engineering consultancy Cx Associates who has reviewed the company’s favorite apps, says his team relies mainly on 7- to 10-inch tablets because the larger screen size makes it easier to view drawings.

“They give you a lot of power and versatility in your pocket that normally would have been contained in desk references, like calculation wheels, chart-based utilities, or a desktop computer,” Fowler notes. “We have our tablets protected with hard cases for field use so they can be a little clunky, but even compared to carrying around a laptop, it’s a non-issue.”

Consider what functions you’ll replace with apps and where you’ll use your mobile device to help narrow down your choices. Some tablets, like iPads, can’t recognize a fine-tip stylus well, which could be a problem if you’re taking notes or annotating drawings in the field, Fowler says. “An iPad stylus is really just a proxy for your finger,” he explains. “A complaint about tablets in general is that they’re not able to take pens.”

Hybrid devices that are larger than a phone but smaller than a standard tablet can help bridge the gap between portability and extra screen space. However, phones may still be the best choice in some situations, so consider how quickly you need to synchronize information between your mobile device and the rest of your team.

“The only advantage to an iPhone is that a lot of people still may not have 4G access on their iPad, so as a result the only way they can get internet access with their tablet is in a coffeeshop, the office, or home. The iPhone always has internet,” explains Fowler. “For example, I don’t have 4G connectivity on my iPad because I really don’t need it. I can enter information in the field, but I can’t sync until I get back to the office.”


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