The Practicality of Mobile Apps, and a Few of My Favorites for Consulting

Following on the previous post regarding Mincom’s Mobile Asset Management webinar, I believe the future of data collection will be digital.  Hands down.  Of course, that opinion may spawn from my horrible aversion to all things paper.  I much prefer to have the information on a device than to have to carry around sheets that will get ruined or lost.  Now, there are times when it’s not possible to avoid a hard copy (geotechnical field maps for example, though I will show that that’s not necessarily true in a future post…)  but between smartphones, laptops, and the increasingly-popular tablets, paper is rapidly becoming extraneous.

That being said, I have a handful of apps for my Android phone that make life a bit simpler for me as a consulting geologist.

3D Compass: This app uses Augmented Reality to turn the phone into a Compass Dashboard.  It is particularly useful for taking photos for reports when a direction is important, as the azimuth and camera location coordinates can be displayed on the photo automatically (as well as an overlay of a Google Map showing the camera position and viewing azimuth.)

AutoCAD WS: A lite AutoCAD viewer/basic editor.  A bit more practical on a larger-screened tablet, it is still a useful app for being able to review CAD files in the field rather than having to print out plots of the area prior to embarking.

Compass: A fairly simple Compass app that also allows for Geotagging, and will switch between Magnetic North and True North displays.  Obviously the reliability of the compass depends on the phone hardware, and is not going to be as accurate as a Brunton, but even putting it next to my Brunton I saw little difference in the North direction displayed.

ezClinometer: Another Compass app, but also will display Strike and Dip of whatever surface the phone is situated on (or angle held), as well as Sextant functions.  It hasn’t been updated in a while, but I would like to see it (or a competitor product) actually record multiple entries and display them on a stereonet.  That would be awesome.  Oh, no Dip/Dip Direction support either. 🙁

Evernote: One of the most ridiculously useful cross-platform app suites for taking notes.  It works on Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, and Linux(I think).  Basically, when I’m in the field, I can take voice notes, typed notes, or photographs, and they’re all centrally stored for me to retrieve on my laptop when I get back to the office.  I can also switch the laptop mode to “handwriting” mode (I have a convertible laptop with a stylus to write on-screen) and it will transcribe my written notes into typed text.  Pretty awesome.  Even if you don’t have a mobile device, it’s worth looking into as a desktop/laptop solution.

SwiFTP: This little app will turn your phone into an FTP server to transfer data files remotely.  It has proven useful a number of times when I have needed to get data back to a client, or have them send me a file I’d forgotten, and I am not in an area where my cell phone data is the only connectivity option.  It does take a little setup, but is well worth it.

Timecatcher: Timecatcher is a timer app that is irreplaceable for tracking my consulting time.  It runs in the background to log time spent on a project, travel time, etc.  Multiple timers can run at once as well, such as when travelling and working on a project in the airport during a layover.  It will also time phone calls from contacts marked as “clients” so that information can be logged as well.  It will also export CSV files of the history of the time stored, which can be included in an invoice if necessary.  Brilliant app.


Obviously, one of the biggest benefits is that I always have access to these tools – my phone is literally never more than 5 feet away from me.  As such, unless I’ve allowed the battery to drain by playing too much Angry Birds, I will have access to these apps.  Issues over forgetting tools like a camera, Brunton, notebook, map, etc. are a thing of the past.