The police officer types a few keys on his dash-mounted laptop. A few seconds later, the text of the last dispatch scrolls onto the screen. He double-checks the destination, and turns off the interstate at the next exit. The woman is waiting in the car when he arrives; she is badly shaken, but unhurt. She tells the officer that she picked up a female hitchhiker in the last town. At knifepoint, the hitchhiker forced her to pull off the highway and then took her wallet. While she provides a description of the assailant, the officer uses a mobile application to enter the distinguishing features and run a search of police databases. Three matches are returned, one of whom was recently released from a nearby correctional facility. Asking the woman to have a seat beside him in the patrol car, he shows her a computer-generated mug shot lineup, consisting of the possible assailants and four additional but unrelated faces. With no hesitation, she selects that of the recently released suspect. The officer switches to another application and files a bulletin for immediate dispatch. Two hours later, the suspect is picked up and brought in for questioning.
Although this incident is fictional, the mobile applications illustrated are in everyday use. In the province of Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and local civic police forces use mobile dispatch and search applications like those in our example. The ROADS (Remote Office and Dispatch System) application is deployed on dash-mounted laptops in police cruisers. It makes use of a Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) network that is overlaid on the province-wide analog cellular network. ROADS provides dispatch, reporting, and back-end data access to the Canadian Police Information Center and the Police Information and Retrieval System. The system has been in use for more than two years, and it is popular with officers because it makes their difficult jobs a lot easier.
Figure 1 ROADS in use.
Mobile Applications Defined
Mobile workers are all around us. Couriers, field service technicians, salespeople, and emergency workers such as police officers come to mind right away. But what about medical staff, trial lawyers, executives, and airline personnel? Any person who spends a significant part of the day away from their desk is a potential candidate for the title "mobile worker." Mobile workers use mobile applications to make their jobs more efficient.
Mobile applications can be defined as human/computer communications on the move. They run on a broad range of devices, from cellular phones and hand-helds to laptops and specialized tablets. Mobile applications do not need to run over a wireless network. The ubiquitous Palm organizer provides a host of useful mobile applications out of the box, usually relying on cradle synchronization for enterprise connectivity. A typical mobile device provides a stylus or miniature keyboard for input, although devices with voice interfaces are becoming more common. Enterprise mobile applications are targeted at employees or business partners, as opposed to consumers. Enterprise mobile applications may automate a mobile employee's workflow or extend the desktop of an executive whose job is primarily in the office.