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The Future of Survey Data Collection: Windows or Android?

With the retirement and subsequent disowning of Windows Mobile by Microsoft, the survey and positioning world finds itself holding out for a new data collection hero. For the last 20 years, development of survey software has focused around Windows Mobile. With Windows Mobile discontinued, programmers have been forced to shift their focus to Windows and Android development. Two routes have generally been taken, a port of the Windows mobile version to Windows 10 and 11, or the construction of a completely new program from the ground up for Android. With Android you get a more flexible platform with more data collection options but limited software functionality and options. On the other hand, with Windows, you get more processing power and software packages you are familiar with. However, you have fewer data collector options, and all of the pitfalls of a Windows based operating system.  

There are trade-offs in both solutions, lightweight flexibility vs raw power, customization vs turnkey solutions, legacy code vs new features, what drivers are available and more. With that in mind, let’s review the Pros and Cons of both solutions to find out what can best meet your needs. Here at Bench-Mark we know the pitfalls and benefits of each system, and we want to keep you informed.

Windows 10 Pros: Power and Familiarity

Windows 10: Processing Power

One of the main advantages of Windows and the related data collectors is the increase in available computing power. With a Windows data collector, you have a much wider and more powerful array of available processors. For instance, in the Mesa family from Juniper Systems, there are available options with Intel processors such as the Intel i5 and i7 or cheaper but still powerful Celeron. Before with Windows Mobile devices, there were severe restriction on memory, with the Windows 10 devices, you are no longer limited by the size of your projects. You have the ability to import everything you need to. Furthermore, with a full-blown Windows PC in the field, you can run applications that before you could only run in the office. On top of this a Windows tablet in the field, you also are guaranteed at least a 7” high contrast screen for easy viewing on the brightest of days.

Windows 10: Familiarity

Windows 10 software packages like FieldGenius 11 are also built directly off the backs of their Windows Mobile predecessors, meaning the workflow has stayed exactly the same, allowing you to jump right into the same surveying routine as before, just with more power. As a result, you can avoid the learning curve of a new software package, allowing you to get working faster. This also means that almost all of the drivers you were running with your Windows Mobile version are available in Windows.

The Windows based Juniper Mesa 3 running FieldGenius for Windows.

Android Pros: Flexibility and New Software

Android: More Data Collection Options

One of the biggest advantages of Android is the wide spread adoption of the Android operating system. This means that there are plenty of different data collector options available on the market, so that you can find the one that meets your needs. With Android device like the P9III or the Allegro3 give users the ability to have a lightweight, fast solution that fits in your pocket, meaning that you can be in and out of a job quickly and efficiently even in the worst conditions. The Android data collectors mentioned also come with built in keyboards, meaning easy use when the weather won’t cooperate, but they are far from the only options available. Android devices come in all shapes and sizes, and all of them work as a plug and play option for surveyors who want to connect their data collector to the office computer to organize their data.

Android: New Software

With the introduction of Android data collection software, programmers finally had a chance to build a new set of software. This means that the restraints of the Windows Mobile and the problems with legacy code can be avoided. Lessons learnt in the previous Windows Mobile versions of FieldGenius can be incorporated and built upon in the new Android version. As well with the announcement that Windows 11 will be able to natively run and install Android applications, developers will be putting more resources into the Android versions of your favourite surveying software suites.  

An Android tablet with FieldGenius Android.

Windows Cons: Cost and Windows

Windows: Limited and Expensive Options

Unlike with Android data collectors, the options for ruggedized Windows 10 tablets are significantly more limited. Although it may appear that there are a host of different Windows data collectors in the surveying space like; Topcon’s FC-5000 and Carlson’s RT4 they are in reality re-branded Juniper Mesa 3s. Outside of surveying, the industry standard for rugged data collectors is Android. In conjunction with more powerful processors, this often means that Windows data collectors are more expensive that similarly sized Android options.

Windows: Windows Based Issues

As these data collectors are often running Windows operating systems, you are still limited by the usual Windows issues. It is difficult to directly plug the device into a computer without specialty cables. This means that file transfer has to be done either using a cloud solution like Dropbox, or OneDrive, or by using a flash drive. Further, I am sure at one point everyone has been stopped in their tracks by a Windows Update. Although not an everyday problem, those couple times a year it happens and you get the “Please wait while we configure your updates” message can be very frustrating.

The infamous Windows updates have been the bane of office workers for many years now.

Android Cons: Functionality and Limited Applications

Limited Functionality

Although there are many benefits of being able to build a software package from the ground up and incorporate new and old ideas, the Windows version of most surveying software packages has a 20-year head start. This means that as of the time of writing this article, there are features missing in the Android versions of your favourite software packages. Legacy drivers may not be supported, and some of the more niche functions you may like, may not yet be available.

Limited Applications

For the last 20 years, the surveying space has been built in and around the Windows ecosystem. Almost all of your favourite apps are built around Windows, although support is coming, Android does not yet have this wide array of applications. The apps you may need in the field, may not be available in Android. This means that if you decide on an Android device, you may be required to bring a second device with you in the field.

A 5th Generation Hemisphere S320. Although the drivers are inside FieldGenius, other older legacy models may not be supported.

What Does This Means for You?

Of course, both of these solutions bring to the table options that users could only dream of on Windows Mobile. The ability to sync your data with the office in real time and wirelessly with cloud services like Dropbox or One Drive. The streamlining of any wireless services like NTRIP and CORS usage due to more integrated and well-maintained wireless functions.  And of course, continued development of survey software, leading to more robust, easier to use, in the field solutions. Both Windows and Android provide users with a path forward, and all it will come down to what gets you the most bang for your buck.

Making the decision between the two is difficult. With current industry trends, it appears that Android may be the main operating system for field use. However, with the ability to load Android applications into Windows on the near horizon, this choice may become trivial. At the end of the day, one must weigh their options and decide what is the best path forward for themselves.

Bench Mark Equipment & Supplies is your team to trust with all your surveying equipment. We have been providing high-quality surveying equipment to land surveyors, engineers, construction, airborne and resource professionals since 2002. This helps establish ourselves as the go-to team in Calgary, Canada, and the USA. Plus, we provide a wide selection of equipment, including global navigation satellite systems, RTK GPS equipment, GNSS receivers, and more. We strive to provide the highest level of customer care and service for everyone. To speak to one of our team today, call us at 403-286-0333 or email us at [email protected] 

About the Author

Nolan has been working in the surveying field since 2017, starting as a part-time student at Bench-Mark while attending the University of Calgary. He now works in technical support and sales helping customers find the right product for them.

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