11 Ways to Make Your iPhone or iPad Your Best Construction Tool
Tablets and smartphones are becoming more and more important in the construction industry. (And, let’s face it: in every other part of life!)
It’s easy to understand why. We work in a dynamic industry! When you have to travel between the office and different construction sites, collaborate with lots of different stakeholders, and show, explain, or discuss things based on plans, sketches and pictures, a handy portable tablet or smartphone is like a gift from God.
ArchiSnapper’s been in business for about five years now, and we’ve noticed that few construction professionals actually take advantage of a powerful device like a tablet. In fact, most don’t even get 20% of the value a tablet potentially can offer them!
An example: During every demo we do, we demonstrate the voice-to-text functionality. And every time we do, we hear an audible wow from the audience. People are consistently surprised by how well this works and how easy it is to use. (Unfamiliar with voice-to-text? No worries; we’ll talk more about this functionality below!)
A smartphone or tablet is truly a productivity powerhouse for construction professionals.
But we’re all so busy working on projects that we sometimes forget to invest time in working smarter by implementing easy tricks. The time we do invest in those life hacks, however, saves us more time in the long run—so it’s definitely worthwhile!
That’s why I decided to write this guide, where I’ll feature some of the most interesting tips for contractors, engineers and architects to get the most out of their iPad or iPhone. Not an iOS user? Just hang tight—we’ll be writing a similar guide for Android tablets and phones very soon.
If you’re not yet fully motivated to continue reading, remember one thing: Time is your most valuable asset.
Unlike material things, you can’t lose time and get it back again. You can’t spend time and go earn more of it. You can’t buy it, rent it, or borrow it. Use it wisely and you’ll enjoy a myriad of benefits; squander it, and it’s gone forever.
It’s funny when you think about it. We obsess about our money: tracking it in our bank accounts, thinking and reading about how to earn more of it, learning how to invest it. And yet we typically think very little about our time. We routinely let people steal it from us—even though it’s our most valuable possession.
As Warren Buffet said,: “I can buy anything that I want, basically, but I can’t buy time. There’s is no way I will be able to buy more time.”
Optimizing your day-to-day workflows to save time is key to success, growth, and a less stressful life.
I know through personal experience that the 11 tips below can easily save you an hour per day at a minimum. But you do have to take the time to learn and implement those tricks in the first place and apply them consistently!
11 Ways to Make Your iPhone or iPad your Best Construction Tool
1. Use voice-to-text.
2. Make Siri your best friend.
3. Consider these four accessories.
4. Set up a mobile or personal hotspot.
5. Use the right apps.
6. Use the Apple Pencil.
7. Split your screen.
8. Get the most out of Apple’s top-quality camera.
9. Scan, edit and sign documents.
10. Use Waze or Google Maps.
11. Last but not least: back up your iPad!
Here we go:
1. Use voice-to-text.
If you work in construction, I’m sure you can imagine the following scenario:
You are on site. Your hands are dirty or it’s cold and you’re wearing gloves.
You just took a picture of an issue and it’s urgent, so you would like to send it immediately to the persons involved.
But man… typing on the iPad with those dirty fingers or always having to take of those gloves first… There’s no other way to say it. It’s just a pain in the ass!
This is only one example where the voice-to-text option will be useful. Think about a punch list meeting where you don’t have much time to write out text, or any other situation where you quickly want to take some notes.
Voice-to-text solves the problem simply.
In short: you speak, the iPad/iPhone writes. That easy!
No need to use your (dirty) fingers. No need to take off those nice, warm gloves.
You just dictate, and when you’re finished, hit ‘done’.
So how does it work, and how do you use it?
When you open your keyboard, you’ll see a little microphone icon.
Tap that button, and you can start speaking. (If you cannot see the microphone icon on your displayed keyboard, you need to enable the dictation feature in your settings. Go to General -> Keyboard -> and activate the Enable Dictation option.)
Obviously, you want to leave slang and style behind. Just speak clearly and accurately. To add a period, just say “period.” To skip a line, say “new line.” Here you can learn 60 more voice dictation commands. It’s a little bit like learning a new language—it takes some practice, but you will get the hang of it quickly!
You can dictate in whichever application you want: email, notes, field report apps, agenda, messaging systems… everywhere. It’s so much faster and more pleasant than typing.
When I mention this feature in conversations, people often seem ambivalent. They assume it’s something new and fancy but which doesn’t work well in day-to-day use. But it does. It works really well, in fact! Here’s a video that shows how to dictate text on your iPhone or iPad:
Can you believe that even today, in 2019, there are—despite this easily available and accurate voice-to-text technology—still companies that use dictaphones (dictaphones!!) to record voice dictation? Not only do they need an extra piece of equipment, they then have to pay the administrative personnel at the office to actually type out the text. It almost sounds like a joke! Talking about wasting time and underutilizing technology.
I’m convinced that in five years, everyone will be speaking instead of typing.
And I’m encouraging all our users to use this voice-to-text functionality when documenting observations onsite with our app.
2. Make Siri your best friend.
Not only should you get to know Siri, your iPhone’s built-in digital assistant—you might even want to make her your best friend.
So who, exactly, is this Siri?
Siri is Apple’s virtual personal assistant, with a personality straight out of a Pixar film.
With Siri, your iPad or iPhone can help you do all sorts of amazing things. And remember, you TALK to Siri, you don’t write to her!
To access this personal assistant extraordinaire, just hold the Home button or say, “Hey, Siri!” Then you ask your question or give your command.
Here are some examples that are specifically useful for construction professionals, like architects, contractors and engineers, who are often on the road:
- Send text messages, call people, or send emails … all based on your voice input. This is super useful when you’re driving or on a cold/rainy/dusty construction site.
- Location or time based reminders. For example, try: “Hey Siri, remind me to distribute my field report/take out the trash/order a gift for my mom’s birthday… when I’m home.’
- Quick calculations onsite.
- Launch apps: “Hey Siri, launch ArchiSnapper!”
- Check the weather report.
- And so, so much more.
You can ask Siri to do these things from your car or on the construction site, all without typing a single word.
If you’re interested in getting value from using Siri, here’s an excellent guide. Or just start playing around!
Siri can help you save you so much time and multitask with efficiency. Whenever you need hands-free functionality, Siri’s your girl!
Be careful though, because Siri is apparently a sassy, witty woman. (In other words, totally adorable.) Make sure not to fall in love with her! Might sound crazy, but if you’ve seen the movie Her, where Scarlett Johansson voices Samantha, you know it’s actually quite possible. ;)!
3. Consider these four useful accessoires.
You know how it is onsite. It gets windy and there’s dust all around. A bit later, it might start raining. And all of a sudden, it happens: you’re climbing a ladder and your iPad drops to the floor.
Yikes. Can your precious iPad or iPhone survive these circumstances?
Well, a naked iPad/iPhone wouldn’t, but it will with a tough case!
One of the best rugged, waterproof cases for iPad and iPhone has proven to be the Griffin Survivor case. It’s even been tested against conditions for the US Department of Defence and offers great wind, rain, and dust protection!
You can find lots of reviews and even drop/water tests online that show this is the real deal:
If you’re an architect and you want a sturdy iPad case that doesn’t necessary need to be water and shockproof, another great option is Apple’s Tech21 Impact Clear Case with Pencil Holder.
This case offers serious bump and scratch protection as it’s built with a high-performing impact material. Another wonderful feature of this case is its convenient, built-in holder for the Apple Pencil—which we will talk about more in just a little while!
It’s especially handy for those who already work with the Pencil and have had the panicked where-did-it-go experience millions of times onsite. You know what I’m talking about, right?
Keyboard case for iPad
If you need to write out a lot of text on site (for example, taking minute reports at meetings), then a keyboard case might be the thing for you! This way, you don’t have to switch between your phone/tablet (for taking pictures or working with an app) and your laptop (for writing out long texts) all the time.
You’re on your way to a punch list walk-through with an important client. You’re driving along when all of a sudden, you realize your iPad or iPhone is not charged. Damn!
Chances are your phone or tablet is your main tool to check floor plans, drawings, and other documents …
But you also use your iPhone to consult previous field reports and meeting information, and to document your punch list with notes—which you now know you can do by just dictating, remember!
Going back to doing a punch list walk-through with pen and paper just because your battery died should feel as clumsy and inefficient as arriving at the punch list meeting on your horse instead of with your car.
So a very simple piece of advice: make sure to have a car charger for your phone or tablet. You can’t afford to risk not being able to do a proper site visit, or take that important call, or let your spouse know you’ll be late for dinner… especially when a $30 car charger can save you from all of those embarrassing and inconvenient situations.
The Belkin USB-C Car Charger, for example, can charge your iPhone, iPad, or MacBook quickly and safely in the car. It delivers up to 36W from your car’s DC port to your iOS or Mac device.
Easy, affordable, and best of all: no more stress when you step out the door in the morning and you realize your mobile device is almost out of power. It’s a no brainer!
Your iPad and iPhone come with a simple measuring app.
But when you need exact measurements, such as for installing windows, we recommend adding a more accurate measuring tool to your construction kit.
There are some excellent measuring tools with corresponding apps that immediately provide accurate measurements of areas using an inbuilt distance laser.
Stanley, for example, has a tool called the Smart Measure Pro that can be attached to your phone or tablet to cover the lens and thus scan measurements in real time. It provides accurate measurements of areas photographed in images taken on mobile devices.
The tool will save you so much time since it takes live, real-time measurements!
Moreover, it instantly provides correct dimensions and accurate estimations of how much material will be needed to complete a project. Pretty spiffy, right?
4. Set up a mobile or personal hotspot.
Sometimes (…okay, pretty often), there’s no Wi-fi on the construction site. In those cases, it might be very handy to use your cellular data connection as a hotspot and share it with all your other devices. Your colleagues could connect too!
For example, let’s say you’d like to access the internet on your iPad or laptop, and you have an iPhone on you with a mobile connection. You can set up a hotspot with your phone which will then appear in the available Wi-fi connections on other devices, such as your iPad, your laptop, etc.
Not sure how to turn on that functionality? Check out this article on how to turn an iPhone into a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Some things to keep in mind when sharing your data network via hotspot:
- Charge your phone or tablet while doing this. Using your cellular data and broadcasting a hotspot at the same time will consume a lot of battery power.
- Consider that a lot of cellular data usage can rack up a serious mobile bill. If you let 20 people use your hotspot for a day, you’ll end up with a huge amount data usage. Be sure you know your plan’s pricing scheme before you get started!
- When setting up a Wi-fi hotspot, always protect it with a strong password. You don’t want strangers to connect to your network.
5. Use the right apps.
There are apps and software to automate about every boring, tedious manual task: construction calculations, measurements, field reports and punch lists, PDF annotations, time-tracking, invoicing, expense management, sketching… you name it, there’s an app for it.
Let’s take the case of drafting a field report or site inspection as an example. (These functions are what we know best, since ArchiSnapper is built just for that!)
You are, of course, free to stick with the old pen-and-paper method that you’re used to. But if you have a tablet or a smartphone, it would be downright counterproductive to not automate 90% of the field reporting tasks with an app or a software.
Of course, it takes an investment of time and effort to switch to a new way of working with a new piece of software.
But remember, once you implement this new technique, you’ll win that time back—and then some more! You’ll win it back week after week, month after month, year after year, just like compound interest. Sound like a good investment to me!
Think about the top five most time-consuming and repetitive activities you do on a weekly basis, and take a moment to figure out if there are apps that can speed up or automate those activities. It’ll take you less than an hour to put together a list of apps and download them, so just do it, and thank me later! ;)
Psst—need some help getting started? Make sure to check out this list of the best apps for architects and contractors.
6. Use the Apple Pencil.
The Apple Pencil is basically a pen you can use to write, draw, sketch or make notes easily on your iPad.
You can use a note-taking or writing application and write just like you would with a pen. The Pencil is very accurate and sensitive. You will be surprised at how well it works, trust me.
You can also scan a photo or document, or just even take a photo, and then start writing or drawing directly on it. There are lots of options to change the thickness of the pen point, color, texture, etc. There are also options to create perfectly straight lines and to precisely adjust angles.
For note-taking, we recommend the Notability app over the Notes app pre-installed on your iPad, because it offers more features and greater accuracy.
You can easily customize the paper style, too. And it allows you to draw figures in a spacious separate window.
Little by little, we’re also seeing the first decent handwriting recognition apps for iPad. These apps can translate your pencil-based scribbles into actual digital text. MyScript Nebo is a good example. It’s like writing an email with your pen!
Here’s a guide with everything you need to know about working with an Apple Pencil.
7. Split your screen.
You should make the split-screen functionality part of your workflow. It allows you to view and use two or more apps at the same time!
Say you’re onsite and you want to send off some pictures you just took to a client. But at the same time, you need to check a document with the information you need to include in the email.
With the split-screen option, it’s perfectly possible to do that without opening and closing these two apps over and over.
8. Get the most out of Apple’s top-quality camera and photo app.
As we have talked about in previous articles, the construction business is a visual business—and it’s becoming even more so. Photos and videos matter! Nobody reads a page full of text, but everyone will take a look at a picture with an annotation on it.
Your iPhone and iPad are fantastic devices for taking high-quality pictures. You only need to know a couple of little tricks to get the most out of it.
For example, the following options might be helpful when you are on site:
Set focus and exposure (and lock it):
- When taking a picture with the iOS camera app, you can tap with your finger to set the focus.
- Tap and hold the exposure button that appears next to it, which looks like a miniature sun. You’ll now see a slider that allows you to adjust the exposure.
- It’s also possible to lock your focus and exposure by tapping and holding the focus zone until you see an AE/AF lock banner appear at the top of the screen.
Image source: https://www.imore.com/
HDR, or High Dynamic Range:Tapping HDR will make your device take several pictures at different light exposures and automatically combine them to give you a single, beautifully lit photo. Easy as pie.
It’s definitely worth trying these simple tips, given how dramatically they might increase the quality of your photos.
And even if your photos don’t come out perfectly, you can edit them. To edit a photo (crop, rotate, sketch, auto-enhance, or make light/color adjustments) after taking it, just open the photo app and tap Edit.
9. Scan, edit and sign documents.
Your use of the camera isn’t limited to just taking photos and shooting video.
You can actually use your iPad or iPhone as a scanner! This makes it simple to transform receipts, business cards, and other important documents into PDF files.
The document scanner is tucked away in the Notes app on your iPad (available in iOS 11 and later). With just a couple of taps, you’ll have a solidly scanned document ready to mark up, convert to PDF, and share with other apps.
- Open the Notes app on your iPhone or iPad.
- Create a new note..
- Tap the “More” button just above the keyboard – (+) symbol.
- Tap “Scan Document.”
Now the scanner should automatically scan. If it doesn’t, tap the shutter button to manually scan the document.
When scanning the document, it’s important to wait until the words come into focus. The camera on the iPad will adjust automatically until the text on the page is readable.
When you’re done, you can save the document as a new note in the Note app. If you want to edit it, or save it as a PDF, just go to the Share button in the new note and choose either Markup or Create PDF:
With the Markup functionality, you can also add text and signatures.
So yes, your iPad can also act as a scanner on the go!
10. Use Waze or Google Maps (and replace your old “offline” GPS, if you even still have one).
This tip is not only related to the construction industry. Waze or Google Maps are must-have apps—with an active data connection to help you avoid traffic. This is especially for architects, contractors and construction engineers, who are often on the road.
If you aren’t familiar with Waze, let us introduce you. It’s a free social navigation app that saves you tons of wasted time in traffic. Waze uses user feedback, like mentions of traffic jams, police locations and road blocks, in order to get better routes for your next trip. Without exaggerating, Waze has saved me hours, if not days or weeks, of time lost sitting behind the wheel.
Because, really—is there anything more unproductive, frustrating and useless than being stuck in traffic? Knowing that time is your most valuable asset, being locked in a car in the middle of a big traffic jam is almost physically painful. Apart from the time lost, it’s also just plain irritating. Traffic jams are as bad for your brain as they are your business.
Besides saving time, Waze might also save you a speeding fine or three thanks to the alerts it gives when you approach a speed traffic camera or a police car. But you’re driving the speed limit anyway, right? ;)
11. Last but not least: backup your iPhone and iPad!
If there’s one thing I still have nightmares about, it’s forgetting to save, and thus losing, my digital documents when I had to hand in a paper the next day at school!
Your iPad and iPhone also contain a lot of data that you don’t want to lose, like pictures, videos, notes, site reports, and more.
Luckily, these devices have an easy tool that will ensure you never, ever lose any of that valuable data: automatic iPad backup through iCloud.
Click here to see how to enable your iCloud backup.
Backing up your information is a must for anyone who’s using an iPad or iPhone for businesses, let alone personal users.
Well, that’s all folks!
Eleven ways to save time, 11 ways to get the best out of your investment in your phone or tablet.
I bet you didn’t know how much you could actually do with your iPad or iPhone!
Isn’t it amazing? What an upgrade to your device, right?
I sure hope you feel the same way.
Remember: time is our most valuable asset.
So let’s invest in working smarter — and thus taking the time — to learn more about technology that we already invested in. Taking a little bit of extra time today can save you tons of time and money in the long run!
And as I mentioned above, if you are not an iOS user, stay tuned! We’ll be writing a similar guide for Android tablets and phones very soon. :)
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