Apps Acquire Mass Appeal

A report released by Gartner last April forecasts continuing growth in sales of tablets and mobile phones. Tablets, in particular, will more than quadruple yearly sales volume from 116 million units in 2012 to a projected 467 million in 2017. During the same period, traditional PC sales will decline.

According to Gartner, better tablet performance is one reason for the shift away from PCs. In addition, Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, said, “Lower prices, form factor variety, cloud update, and consumers’ addiction to apps will be the key drivers in the tablet market.”1

Even if fascination with apps doesn’t rank as true appaholism, it certainly represents a change in user behavior. In the past, mobile apps generally provided capabilities needed by somebody in the field. “Supporting the Remote Engineer”2 emphasized this theme and identified three categories of engineering apps: calculators, reference guides, and utilities. The classification remains valid, but the bigger takeaway from the Gartner report is that many people are using apps because they like to, not because they have to.

1309 Eng Apps Intro

LM Tomorrow App Quantum Processor
Courtesy of Lockheed-Martin

The area of enterprise apps addresses this trend by allowing mobile access to company information. Of course, not everyone should have access to all the data, so managing data security as well as controlling its transfer are critical aspects of enterprise apps.

Gestural control represents a large part of a tablet’s attractiveness and is used to advantage in apps such as Quark Software’s DesignPad. This free iPad app provides a grid-based approach to document design, whether you need to develop a poster, brochure page, or new business card. The press release describing the product’s many features included this GUI-related phrase: “Position, crop, and resize pictures with a swipe and a pinch or use the nudge control for precise positioning including rotation.” An optional $9.99 Pro Feature Pack adds DropBox and AirPrint support, PDF output, and other advanced capabilities.

Test and Measurement

For test and measurement applications, apps are valuable additions to traditional instrumentation if they actually provide useful features. Where an engineer in the field may make use of online information, remote operation is more closely related to instrument control. Apps can help in both cases.

FLIR Systems has developed the FLIR Tools Mobile app that adds Wi-Fi iPhone/iPad/Android and now Amazon Kindle connectivity to many of the company’s infrared cameras. Several camera models also include Bluetooth, and the T600 features GPS and continuous focus.

With the app, you can view live video streamed from compatible E-Series and T-Series cameras (Figure 1). You also have remote control of the camera and can add temperature measurement tools. It can be downloaded free from FLIR Systems or from Google Play and the Apple iTunes App Store. Version 1.2 for iPhone and iPad is compatible with several models but optimized for iPhone 5. Version 2.1.1 requires Android 2.3 and up.

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Figure 1. FLIR Tools Mobile App in Action
Courtesy of FLIR Systems

For devices with the Android OS v4.0 and higher, the Rohde & Schwarz Power Viewer Mobile app allows the company’s NRP-Z power sensors to be operated from the device. In some applications, the small size and light weight of the resulting measuring system can be advantageous. Functionality includes the following:

  • Continuous power measurement and display of the results in dBm, dB-relative, or W
  • Frequency selection
  • Automatic or manual averaging
  • Power offset /li>
  • Zeroing
  • S-parameter activation

To use the app, your device must be equipped with a USB On The Go host controller and an integrated compatible driver. In addition, you will need a generic USB-OTG adapter and either a NRP-Z3 active USB adapter cable with trigger input or a NRP-Z4 passive USB adapter cable (Figure 2). The app does not support external triggering. It is free from the Google Play store.

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Figure 2. Power Viewer Mobile App Connections
Courtesy of Rohde & Schwarz

Similar to the benefit of operation at a distance afforded by the FLIR app, Anritsu’s free Wireless Remote Tools program “provides a solution for the times when it is not practical to be close to the instrument,” as noted on the Anritsu website. For example, when the measurements you need must be made at the top of a transmission tower, it may be more convenient to control the instrument from the ground.

The company’s compatible instruments and relevant software levels include Site Master v1.48, Spectrum Master E Series v1.48, VNA Master v1.15, all versions of the Spectrum Master T Series, and PIM Master v1.04.

The Wireless Remote Tools software runs on a Windows PC or tablet and communicates via Ethernet. This means that in addition to the Windows device and the target Anritsu handheld instrument, you will need to configure a portable Wi-Fi router to work with the instrument and your PC. The application note Configuring Anritsu Handheld Instruments and the ZyXEL MWR102 Portable Router itemizes the detailed procedure.

Agilent Technologies’ iOS Remote Viewer app for FieldFox handheld RF and microwave analyzers was launched in June at the International Microwave Symposium. According to the company, the app provides remote control via an iPhone, iPad, or iPad mini. The capability to view signals and make measurements via a remote iOS device supports expert troubleshooting by off-site personnel. In addition, the app includes access to FieldFox technical documents and tutorial videos.

National Instruments (NI) launched the Data Dashboard app nearly two years ago. Originally, it allowed you to use iOS or Android devices to view measurement data from LabVIEW programs. In early 2013, the Data Dashboard feature was offered as an iPad add-on to NI VeriStand, a tool that provides a configuration-based software environment to create real-time test systems. Your iPad and the target must be on the same network to communicate.

Several steps are included in the installation process. It is recommended to choose Windows as the target to select the local host. However, it also is possible to run the Data Dashboard add-on on a real-time target.

General Engineering Apps

As described on the company’s website, Tech bench, an iPAD app from NXP Semiconductors, “[allows] engineers to access NXP’s full product portfolio; to collect datasheets, application notes, and quality information; and to ‘drag and drop’ product or application data in self-defined project sections. With the app, users can create a personalized workbench to cluster their engineering projects which then can be shared via email or social media channels.”

Tech bench compliments the company’s existing NXP app for smartphones that supported datasheet access but did not include the personalized workbench feature. It is free from the App Store.

iCircuit ($9.99 from the App Store) is a simulation engine with the benefit of continuously analyzing. You can experiment with analog and digital circuit designs interactively rather than running in a stop-report-start mode. It is optimized for iPhone 5 and compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (third generation), iPod touch (fourth generation), iPod touch (fifth generation), and iPad. It requires iOS 4.3 or later. This app also is available for WindowsPhone for $2.99.

Electronic Engineering Toolkit Pro for iPads provides calculators, simulators, references, and circuit examples. Icons on the main user interface help you to navigate among the many parts. Reference data includes datasheets, color codes, physical constants, and electrical formulas. It costs $4.99 from the App Store for iOS 4.3 or higher.

A collection of calculators and reference material for Android devices is available in the Electrical Engineering app free from 7th Space Interactive. This is a basic-level app that deals with parallel and series circuits and electrical formulas.

On a much higher level, for computers running Windows XP or Vista, the Department of Physics at the University of Colorado has developed Quantum Tunneling and Wave Packets software. As described on the software informer website, with the program you can “watch quantum ‘particles’ tunnel through barriers; explore the properties of the wave functions that describe these particles; visualize wave functions for constant, step, and barrier potentials; visualize both plane wave and wave packet solutions to the Schrodinger equation and recognize how they relate to each other; and interpret and distinguish the real part, imaginary part, and absolute value of the wave function as well as the probability density.” This program is Microsoft certified and downloadable free.

Of Interest to Developers

As mobile phones and tablets have proliferated, so too have the types and versions of operating systems that an app needs to work with. Beyond the current era of bring your own device (BYOD), developers are embracing the totally unfettered bring your own any system (BYOX) model—apps that just work.

Clearly, there is a different emphasis when developing apps with this capability than simply providing content. To cope effectively with the BYOD problem, Deschutes Brewery in Oregon didn’t need an app but instead, together with the North Agency, redesigned its website as a mobile-first project. The goal was to accommodate all mobile phone Internet users by helping them find the closest outlet for Deschutes beer. That model then could be extended to deal with tablets and desktop browsers.

As explained by a company spokesperson, “We employed device detection to identify different types of devices as they hit the site (different flavors of mobile phones, tablets, and desktop browsers). Based on the device, our system delivers a tailored experience. Geolocation is used to locate the site visitor (with permission, of course). By integrating various location and beer inventory APIs, we enabled the primary goal for Deschutes…: a finder that shows the user nearby brews as well as pubs and events in the area.”

Got icons? The High Resolution App Tab Bar Icons collection ($99 from AHA-SOFT) is intended for use by iPhone and iPad developers. It includes a wide range of images, each with a transparent background and choice of image color: black, silver, and white. Sizes range from 20 x 20 pixels to 60 x 60 pixels depending on the use and target device in both PNG and PSD formats.

Motors and Power

Many apps are available for motor drive and power applications. SEW Diagnostics and SEW IE Guide, both from SEW-Eurodrive GmbH & Co KG, are typical. The diagnostic app identifies the likely cause of error codes on the company’s line of frequency inverters. The app, which requires iOS 4.3 or later, is free from the App Store and compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.

The IE Guide provides handy reference information relating to energy-efficiency legislation in different countries. Even though a range of motors might suit a given application, local regulations require a certain level of motor efficiency. Actual motor selection guidance is available on the website. The app is free from the App Store and compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and requires iOS 3.1.3 or later.

Baldor’s Energy $avings Tool also relates to motor efficiency. According to the manufacturer, “The Baldor Energy $avings Tool is used to determine the annual operating costs and kilowatt hour (kWh) usage of an electrical motor. The program compares the efficiency of an existing motor to a comparable Baldor Super-E NEMA Premium efficient motor, shows the results, and suggests a replacement Baldor motor. An estimated payback is calculated by dividing the investment cost of the new motor by potential electricity savings obtained by upgrading to the new Baldor Super-E motor.”

The description continued, “Additional motor information such as application, rpm, phase, and voltage is used by the program to select an appropriate Baldor replacement motor. The program selects the replacement motor that has the highest efficiency rating and lowest list price.” The Energy $avings Tool, free from the App Store, is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and requires iOS 6.0 or later.

Also dealing with motor efficiency, the ABB Energy Calculator can be used to estimate the energy, CO2, and money saved by an ABB variable-speed drive compared to driving the same load directly from the line. The calculator, compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, is free from the App Store and needs iOS 3.0 or later.

Lutron Electronics has concentrated more on residential energy efficiency rather than commercial motor applications. HomeWorks QS controls lighting, shades, and temperature remotely and can be integrated with the home’s HVAC and security systems. Several proprietary Lutron devices comprise the system ranging from sensors to the main processor and related control panels.

Lutron Home Control+ is an iOS and Android mobile app that remotely controls the HomeWorks QS system and monitors data from it. Full two-way communications allow you to remotely reprogram the system’s settings.

There are several models of the Energi Savr node from Lutron but all are intended to be integrated with occupancy sensors, daylight sensors, and digital lighting controls for switching applications. For example, the Energi Savr node with Softswitch controls four switched zones, with each zone having up to 16 A of fluorescent, LED, HID, or incandescent loads. When combined with the company’s ESN programming interface and a suitable wireless router, Energi Savr nodes can be controlled via your iPad or iPhone running the Energi Savr app.

Comoving Magnetics provides a number of Android apps for electrical engineers and installers. Solar Shading develops a solar path graph based on the local shading obstructions and information from your phone’s compass, GPS, and accelerometer. PV Toolbox calculates operating voltage, current, and watts based on the number of solar panels and cells. This app also provides basic solar angular and irradiance information for your location.

Several additional apps from the company support practical installation solutions to problems such as estimating the correct fill for conduits and the voltage drop expected for gages and lengths of connecting wires.

More App Types

A wide range of app types is providing mobile engineering tools as well as reference information. In many cases, there is a very practical advantage offered by the app, such as remote operation. In other cases, using the app may be preferred because of the gestural user interface. Very often, a specific app represents another aspect of how you already depend on your mobile device to supply other kinds of information.

Returning to Gartner’s findings that people simply like to use apps, companies are developing apps as marketing tools. Lockheed Martin has created the LM Tomorrow iPad app “to inspire a new generation of scientists, engineers, and technologists by sharing our world and work with them,” said Ginny Vasan, vice president of corporate identity. Vasan explained that the company recognized how much communications channels had changed “in the last five years and as a technology leader, it’s important for us to experiment with new ways to engage our audiences.”

LM Tomorrow, free from the App Store, features some of Lockheed Martin’s most innovative technologies from a micro-scale unmanned aerial vehicle and human exoskeleton design to some of the company’s more well-known products such as air and spacecraft.

References

1. “Traditional PC Market Predicted to Decline 7.6 Percent as Change in Consumers’ Behavior Drives Transition to Tablets and Ultramobiles,” geeks WORLD Online, April 4, 2013.

2. Lecklider, T., “Supporting the Remote Engineer,” EE-Evaluation Engineering, EE Online, May 2013.

For More Information

Agilent Technologies

Anritsu

FLIR Systems

Google Pay Store

National Instruments

Rohde & Schwarz

The App Store

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