More Fleets Are Calling On Smartphones

GPS-enabled cell phones are allowing drivers to do more--for a lot less.


Smartphones are poised to take on a larger role in the route delivery world by becoming another choice for fleet managers who want to stay in touch with their drivers.

These phones, such as the Motorola MC35, are seen as a middle ground solution for fleets, taking up a position in the device world between the common cell phone and the rugged handheld mobile computer unit; both in terms of functionality and price.

Handhelds can run a fleet $3,000 per unit, while Smartphones range from $800 to $1,700 in price. And while this is nowhere as inexpensive as paying $60 for a low-end cell phone, most experts believe that smartphones will eventually drop in price.

In addition to being GPS enabled, smartphones are capable of running complete operating system software, such as Windows Mobile, which provides a standardized interface and platform for application developers. This is in contrast to the average mobile phone, which runs on Java software and provides little mobile computing power.

"Standard phones have about 780K of memory on them. Smartphones have at least four gigs of memory on them, which is what is required for robust computing power," says James Stevenson, vice president of Appian Logistics, an Oklahoma City, OK-based provider of mapping and vehicle routing software. Its clients predominately use its software solutions on cell phones.

"The smartphone is like a little computer. There is more processing power on this type of phone then there is on the rovers that NASA sent into space," says Cindi Brandt, manager for marketing for UPS Logistics, Baltimore, MD.

John Higgins, director of business solutions supporting transportation distribution, retail and manufacturing verticals for Sprint, Overland Park, KS, agrees. "Technology is jumping so quickly into the cell phones and what we're able to do with them, that they are indeed like mini-computers."

He suggests that if a company has a young workforce, this can work to its advantage. "Giving them a cell phone and teaching them how to use it from a technology perspective will be a fairly simple thing to do. They're already computer literate."

According to UPS' Brandt, another advantage is the fact that the GPS chips in smartphones are more accurate and allow for more precise geo coding as well as more precise location identification.

"They also allow for auto arrive and auto depart." Brandt says drivers don't have to manually input this information into their phones anymore when they arrive at a delivery site or leave it. The phone will do it automatically for them.

More Detailed Information

Additionally, typical GPS enabled cell phones can only provide basic GPS functions--turn by turn directions and the transmittal of positioning information back to a home office. Smartphones, thanks to the increasing number of applications being written for them, are able to provide a greater depth of GPS related information to end-users.

"We have a developers' program where we allow anyone who wants to write applications to our phone access to the application protocols so they can actually go in and write applications," notes Sprint's Higgins.

"A good example is a Windows mobile device that not only has GPS route information that allows a driver to get directions, but through our application partners like Sprint Navigation, can give a driver traffic updates in real time. If there's a major accident on his route, he can ask to be rerouted. These are the kind of solutions we can provide on our smartphones.

"It's more than just having GPS data about the location of a vehicle, it's about being able to take the GPS data and massaging it for use on the backend, not only for your internal business needs, but to satisfy your external customer needs," he adds.

As an example, Higgins' associates have created applications that take advantage of GPS data to inform warehousing operations when drivers are making return trips and--because the businesses have been integrated with such applications--they already know what's on the truck when it arrives. This allows them to unpack the product and cross-dock it for outward bound shipments much easier than before.

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