Apps versus browsers: why an app-based approach is best for field service workers.

‘Is there an app for that?’ is probably one of the most asked questions of the 21st century. Whether it’s booking a holiday, buying or renting a car, or checking on a child’s school report, almost every activity we carry out can be supported by an app. The reason for this is simple – an app provides users with a consistent experience that, in many cases, is independent of connectivity and is designed to work on a specific device.

However, apps require specific software development effort. This is why many software platforms are delivered through a web browser. Modern web development standards allow for adaptative web pages that dynamically resize and move things around so everything fits on the screen whether you’re using a giant 4K display on a PC or on a five-inch smartphone screen.

Both approaches have their merits for application delivery. But the challenge is choosing the right platform for a given use case. Often, the choice comes down to simple cost. In general, developing an adaptive website to support an application has a lower cost than building an app that runs natively. An adaptive browser app can run on almost any device and platform, whereas separate apps are needed for each supported platform. That can mean creating Windows, macOS, Android and iOS/iPadOS versions of one app.

Field service workers ply their craft in many different locations. Often, those locations are outside cellular data or Wi-Fi zones. And that makes browser-based applications troublesome. Without a reliable internet connection, field service workers are unable to access, update or input information while carrying out a task. They may be working in a plant room or lift well where there is no access to wireless communications. As a result, they only enter information once they get out of that coverage blackspot. This can result in information being incorrect or incomplete, as it’s being entered from memory, and timestamps and geotags will be incorrect. It may even hamper their ability to take photos and directly attach them to a service report.

An app-based approach is a far more effective solution for field service workers. With an app the data they need can be loaded onto the device whether it’s a laptop in a service vehicle, a tablet carried around a site or a smartphone in the worker’s pocket. When they launch the app, the necessary data for all their jobs is there. Using the app does not depend on real-time access to a network. They can enter information while on-site as they work.

An app-based approach also offers usability benefits. Mobile platforms now offer tools such as handwriting recognition, easy integration with high-quality smartphone cameras and speech to text input. These are benefits that may not be as easily accessed through generic browser applications. 

A browser-based user experience may be a good fit for desktop users. For example, job schedulers working in the office or in locations with dependable network access can use a browser reliably. But in the field, where connectivity can be challenging and different field workers are suited to different devices, an app-based approach makes more sense.