Smartphone platforms and law enforcement
Everyone has a cell phone, and a lot of those ‘everyones’ have something called a smartphone. A smartphone is different from a standard cell phone in that it will run applications that go beyond what have become standard features — telephone, instant messaging, camera, music player, address book. Recently, PoliceOne asked our readership what smartphone apps they are using, and which ones they would like to see.
BlackBerry has about 20 percent of the smartphone market, and is arguably the most popular choice among the business community. The BlackBerry OS is considered more secure than others, especially for communication with enterprise e-mail servers.
“CrackBerries,” as they are known because of their always-in-touch addictive properties, ship with virtually every business application most users need. A great many completely satisfied customers never add any applications beyond those that come with the device.
A search of the BlackBerry App World store didn’t come up with any applications written specifically for police officers, other than a law enforcement theme that will put customized wallpaper and buttons on your display. A PoliceOne reader suggested an app that would turn a BlackBerry hardware button into an emergency alert, sending a distress message when the user pressed it. If there are any BlackBerry software engineers out there, this could be your golden opportunity.
Open-source software has not been a big moneymaker, historically speaking. This isn’t to say that open source applications aren’t any good. SourceForge.org has quite a variety of applications for Linux (another open-source operating system, this one for the PC) and Windows available, all for free, and most of them as good and cross-compatible with their commercial alternatives such as Microsoft Office, Photoshop, and WinZip.
Because Android was incubated by Google, applications generated by Google slide right into Android. Google Apps that mimic the main features of Microsoft Office, GMail, and Google Voice (among others) run seamlessly on Android. The unsettling aspect of most Google Apps is that the model keeps most of your data in the “cloud,” residing on one or more servers Google owns. When you want your data, the system retrieves it quickly and wirelessly. If you lose your connection to the cloud, you also lose the connection to your data (although some Google Apps will store files on your device, if you ask them to). Many users aren’t especially comfortable giving their data to a third party, and not necessarily being able to get to it when they want.
A Google App that our readers report to be very useful — one that is available on platforms other than Android — is Google Translate. Type a phrase into the box, select which language you would like it translated to, and push the button. The application will even try to recognize the language of whoever you’re trying to communicate with if they key their phrase into the box themselves (on some smartphones, there is a provision to speak the phrase into the phone). If they use an alphabet other than ours, you’ll have to enable the appropriate keyboard on your phone, but it’s do-able. The translations can be laughable, but the general idea gets across. Google Translate is available on any platform that can browse the web. Bring up Google Mobile in the browser of your smartphone to get the mobile-optimized versions.
Android hasn’t been out there all that long, but there are already more than 50,000 apps written for it. The only one I could find that seemed written especially for public safety was the Police Event Recorder, which features touchscreen buttons to log the times of typical events in a call for service, such as dispatch, arrival on scene, arrest, booked, etc. As this OS gains popularity and market share, more apps will appear.
If your shop runs on Microsoft Office and your primary interest is in keeping files generated in Office with you, a Windows Mobile device may be all you need. Windows Mobile is also one of the few smartphone OSs that allow multitasking, e.g. having more than one application running at a time (although iPhone 4.0, scheduled for release in June 2010, is reported to have that capability). This is a very useful feature when you need to copy and paste between applications, or otherwise go back and forth between two or more files.
A downside of multitasking, and one of the reasons that it hasn’t been implemented in other OSs, is the increased load this places on the processor and the internal memory required to support this function. Windows Mobile devices tend to be battery hogs, sucking down the juice faster than others. Users often forget to close applications, and the internal processor burns through electrons maintaining the apps. Each generation of Windows Mobile gets better at managing this problem, but know it’s out there. Battery technology has not kept up with memory and processor evolution, and designers constantly balance the need for higher capacity batteries and smaller form factor devices.
Most of the apps for the iPhone, as well as those for other platforms, cost less than $5.00, and the majority are either $0.99 or free. You don’t usually get to try before you buy, but if what you bought doesn’t turn out to be as good as you hoped, it’s not like you broke the bank to get it. The Spanish app mentioned above is $1.99 — a bargain, even if you use it only once.
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