Explaining EHS iPad Apps vs. Websites

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There are a lot of environmental, health and safety auditors looking for audit tools to make their job easier. iPads and iPhones should rightfully be part of their solution; however, the differences between an iPad software and a desktop or web based software are rarely well understood. Many software vendors – eager to make a sale – who have offered a web based solution for years, try to convince potential clients that since their software works through a web browser, it can be used on a mobile device.

While this is technically true, it is practically false. A web browser on a desktop with a large screen and stable internet connection is completely different from a 10 inch or 4 inch screen on a 3G mobile connection. It is akin to saying a Hummer and a Mini are the same thing because they are both cars. To see an example of this narrative, take a look at this thread on LinkedIn.

A software designed for iPad is completely different than one that is web based or for desktop computers – as it should be. Vendors who claim that their service “is web based, so it can be accessed from an iPad” do not understand the potential benefits and the constraints of an iPad or iPhone (or any touch based device). Software vendors and EHS&Q inspectors looking for both a desktop and mobile solution need to understand why an iPad is not simply a mobile web browsing machine. iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch software must be built specifically for it.

Because an iPad uses your fingers and not a keyboard and mouse, the entire experience for a user is different. Your fingers are a lot bigger than a mouse and your perceptual relationship to a mouse is not the same as your fingers (I hope!). With a mouse, your hand controls a device that makes a pointer on a screen move. With your fingers you are directly manipulating something on a screen and you see and feel the reaction immediately; this is much closer to how you interact with real world objects. This great video explains these concepts in more detail.

Additionally, the screen size is quite different (smaller) and the angle you view the screen at not the same as you have when sitting at a desk. The great iPad software out there – from EHS to games to newspapers – are always designed with these constraints in mind. Making a great iPad app based on these realities is really, really hard, we have been at it for one and a half years and we are still not fully satisfied with the results.

To better meet their audit needs, I suggest EHS auditors and inspectors first determine if they are looking for an iPad solution first or a web based solution first, that will really change their selection priorities.

These major differences between the two devices are why we chose to invest a lot of time, effort and resources into two distinct products for environment, health, safety and quality audits: one for iPad and one web based. While the two integrate together with the click of a button, they are very different beasts.

We designed EHSQ Reporter for iPad to help auditors gather data in the field (notes, photos, videos, audio) and perform audits and inspections as efficiently as possible. The app is fundamentally a data collection and organization tool.

We then designed our web based WikiChecklists site to manage audit templates, modify audit results (collected on iPad), work in teams, track changes by colleagues, issue corrective actions and compare site performance – not to gather data.

I have not spoken of whether a well designed mobile web app (def. website designed for mobile devices) can replace a native app (def. a piece of software that runs on the device) – that is a more nuanced argument. But, if you want to take full advantage of a device’s speed, video, audio, photo and GPS capabilities – native apps are still leagues ahead. This might change in the near future (possibly 2014), but for now we feel native iPad, iPhone and iPod touch apps offer a better experience to auditors who need reliability and efficiency in the field. Of course, your comments and counter-arguments are welcome!

So, when choosing your next EHS software, please take care to determine where you will be using it most – at a desk or in the field.