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Although it’s true that tablets and smartphones are simpler and more intuitive to use than a computer, just like all tools they are worthless if you aren’t utilizing them properly.

Tablets, Smartphones and a few Apps to Get You Started

By Brandon Gallagher Watson


Our company was running into a recurring problem when we went to trade shows: we have too much stuff. We have a ton of products, with more all the time, and those products have a ton of collateral material such as labels/MSDS, product fact sheets, supporting research papers, sell sheets, application guides, before and after photos, videos, and so on. At every show we attend we have to decide beforehand what to bring and, inevitably, someone will walk up to the booth and request the one thing we didn’t bring. We needed a way to have all our content available without the bulk or inconvenience of having to work with a laptop computer for each request. To solve this, we looked to an iPad and it solved our problem by allowing us to have all the materials we could possibly need accessible by just a few quick taps of the finger.

Since then, I have been interested in how tablet computers — such as the iPad — and smartphones can be used by other arborists to help their businesses. Anytime I see an arborist with an iPad, I immediately ask them how they are using it to help sales, what apps they use, and where they have trouble using it effectively. Through this process, I have become convinced that these gadgets are not just for the techno-nerd types. Because these devices can do so many different things, they can be utilized by all types of tree care professionals. In fact, an arborist who is comfortable with them can find a reason to use one in just about every sales call, crew training, or business transaction. Thirty years ago, only a handful of businesses relied on personal computers but today every business does. Tablet computers have the potential that in 30 years you’ll wonder how you communicated to clients without one.

Although it’s true that tablets and smartphones are simpler and more intuitive to use than a computer, just like all tools they are worthless if you aren’t utilizing them properly. That’s the idea behind this “Apps for Arborists” column. In each issue of Arbor Age I will discuss at least three apps that may be useful for arborists. Some may be tree related, some business related, and some that are just useful for running around town.


Device decisions

Just like a computer, there is a difference between hardware and software, and although this column will focus on the software, it is good to talk hardware first. With mobile gadgets, hardware is the device itself, like a phone or tablet, but the hardware you choose makes a big difference because the hardware determines the operating system (OS) used. Apple’s iOS operating system is only available on Apple devices (iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad) while the other major player, Google’s Android OS, is available on devices from many different manufacturers. This is just the same as with computers where you can buy a Dell, IBM, or Sony computer and they can all run Windows but Apple’s systems only come on Apple computers. As a general rule, Apple products cost more, but proponents say they work better because Apple makes everything — the hardware and the OS. Apple’s iOS also uses iTunes as a central hub for purchasing and managing content, which can be useful for keeping your stuff relevant and updated. Android products are typically less expensive and have more options in hardware, but are also more prone to issues as the hardware and software are developed by different parties. You’ll find brand enthusiasts on both sides; and if you haven’t tried either, I recommend trying both to see which seems more comfortable for you. Although I may be biased towards Apple’s iOS devices (iPhone and iPad), I do use an Android phone for work, and will make it clear what devices each app is available for when I post reviews of them.


WiFi when you can 3G?

One last bit on hardware choices before moving on to actual apps; and it’s an important yet often misunderstood difference. Should you get the WiFi-only version or the 3G version when shopping for a new tablet? The 3G costs more and requires a monthly data plan subscription (around $25 per month for most of them) so what’s the advantage of the 3G? The answer comes down to how mobile you plan to be when using the device and what you plan on using it for. A WiFi-only device is only able to connect to the Internet when in a WiFi hotspot, such as your house, office, or local coffee shop. A 3G-enabled device receives an Internet signal just like your cell phone does, so the Internet is accessible just about any place you can use your phone — like in your car or at a client’s property. So if utilizing features like the GPS, mapping apps, looking up something quick on Google, or getting e-mail on the road are important, then the 3G version is recommended.

I have had the WiFi-only version for a year and a half and mostly it is used at home or in an office so it has not been that big of a deal. However, the times I am in the field with it and cannot get online or some apps don’t fully work it can feel like all I have is one of those digital picture frames rather than a computer. Take a moment to think about how you envision using one of these because it is a difference in up-front costs, but you cannot switch from a WiFi-only to a 3G version without buying a new device should you want the 3G access later.


What’s an “app?”

Now that we’ve talked a little about hardware, we can finally get to the apps…so, what’s an app? Simply, apps (short for “applications”) are the computer programs, the software that run on your device. Apps can be anything from word processing to GPS to games to accounting to cameras to Facebook to…well, anything really. Apps are where the real power and utility of these devices comes from.

The incredible volume of apps that have been produced in the past 4 years is just staggering. Apple alone has over a half a million apps available, remarkable since only 500 were available in 2008. Due to Apple’s dominance of the app market, majority of apps are developed for the iOS first and then later adapted for use on the Android.This trend is changing a bit though as Android continues to make up ground in market share. While both Apple’s AppStore and Android’s Marketplace are easily searchable, the sheer quantity of apps and the frequency with which new ones come out make it an abyss of confusion to decide which, if any, will be a good fit for how an arborist may use them. Additionally, there are certain apps, which, at first pass, may not seem of use to the tree care professional, but once shown how they can be employed can prove to be quite useful. Shifting through the fray for the apps best suited for our industry is one of the goals for this column. As far as costs for these apps, surprisingly, many are free and even the ones that cost money usually don’t cost more than a few dollars

So the first batch of apps I want to talk about are maybe not what are widely thought of as apps as they come pre-installed on most tablets these days, but these do tend to be some of the most useful features of these devices. I’m talking about photos, videos, and PDFs, and the best ways to organize and utilize them.


Available on iPad, iPhone, (also on Android but instructions below are for iPad)
Cost: Free (pre-installed)

One of the frustrations I had with my new iPad was how photos are imported to and organized on the device. Once I learned a few tricks, it became probably my most used app when in the field or at trade shows talking with clients.

This tip is for organizing photos on an iPad specifically. iTunes will sync your photo library on your iPad, but it will actually only sync to one folder on your computer. So the easiest way to organize your photos is to create a folder on your computer, I simply called it “iPad pics,” and within that folder you can create subfolders. These subfolders become the “Albums” once they are synced to your device, so this is really where the organizing of your photos happens.

Think about the photos you have and how you talk about tree issues with clients. I created subfolders with subjects such as “Insects,” “Abiotic Issues,” “Pruning,” “Before and After,” and so on, then moved relevant images into each folder. After placing all the photos I want into each subfolder I connect my iPad to my computer and hit “Sync.” All the images added to the folders will appear on the iPad in easy-to-access albums. Take some time playing with the albums so you get comfortable with where your photos are located, that way, when you want to show an image to a client, it can be accessed quickly.


Available on iPad, iPhone, (also on Android but instructions below are for iPad)
Cost: Free (pre-installed)

Similar to the “Photos” app, “Videos” comes preinstalled on the iPad, and can sync files from your computer to your device. The only confusion, I’ve found, is the app on your iPad is called “Videos,” but the place where it is synced through iTunes is called “Movies.” Nonetheless, it is a simple way to get videos you have on your computer onto your iPad for use in the field. I’ve found having moving images of services that customers are less familiar with can be a great way to show them what I am talking about. Our sales staff has found that clients don’t necessarily get what services like Air-Spade work will do to their tree or their yard. By showing them less than 20 seconds of air tools in action they understand what the service is, and are more likely to opt for the treatment. This also works great for selling tree health services that involve tree injection. By showing the client even just a few seconds of the process can help alleviate any fears and help build trust that you know what you are doing.

Syncing videos is a little different than syncing photos. First, not all video formats are supported by iPad. The ones that are supported include .m4v, .mp4, and .mov. If you have video in formats other than these you can get a conversion software like QuickTime Pro ($30) to change the file format first.

To get videos onto your iPad, you first import them into your iTunes library by opening iTunes and going to File>Add File to Library. Select the video files you wish to add, and they will appear in the “Movies” section of your library. Connect your iPad and simply drag the files from the Library over to your iPad (listed under “Devices” in the lefthand toolbar in iTunes). Select your iPad, then hit “Sync” and the videos will now appear on your iPad’s “Video” app.


Available on iPad, iPhone
Cost: Free
Link to AppStore:

This app, made by Apple, may already be pre-installed on your iPad, or it can be obtained for free through the iTunes AppStore. Although this is the app you would use for reading e-books, it is also an easy way to add, view and access PDFs through your iPad. I played around with no less than 10 different apps for managing PDFs, and was quite surprised when iBooks became my favorite.

Getting the files onto the iPad is identical to the way video files were added. Through iTunes, add PDFs to your Library by going to File>Add File to Library and select PDFs you wish to add. They will be imported to your Library’s “Books” section. Then drag them over to you iPad and hit “Sync.” Open up the iBooks app and you will see a button called “Collections” at the top of the screen. Select “PDFs” here, and all the files you added appear on an easy-to-browse bookshelf. You can move files around the shelf by pressing the file for two seconds then dragging it where you want it.

The graphic interface of having the files neatly displayed on a shelf makes accessing these files simpler.  When working with a client, it is so much easier than scanning through a long list of text to find the one you are looking for. PDFs such as any marketing materials, product labels or MSDS, application guides, or treatment protocols can all be easily viewed and e-mailed to a client right from this app.

If you do nothing else with an iPad, just having quick access to photos, videos, and PDFs will make it a very useful tool for working with tree care clients. Of course, there are lots of other things you can do with these, so check out future issues for more reviews and tips for integrating tablets and smartphones into your business.

I’m also interested in how folks are already using these so if you have any tips on apps you have been using, please e-mail me at bgallagher@treecarescience.com. Happy apping!


Brandon Gallagher Watson is director of communications at Rainbow Treecare Scientific Advancements, and is an ISA Certified Arborist (#MN-4086A).

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