Last week, I diligently stood in line at my local Apple store to get my hands on the new iPhone 4. An amazing little device, and definitely a big jump up from my previous 3G model.
One of the new features that comes with this version is called "Face Time". It's essentially video calling in the palm of your hand. You're able to dial up a friend (who also needs to have the iPhone 4) and during your regular conversation, you can initiate a video call and you will switch seamlessly to talking to that person, face to face. Once I got it up and running, I immediately called my brother in Las Vegas to test out this new service. I was unsure at first what I would think about communicating this way on a regular basis.
After spending a few minutes getting over the awe of what we were doing (and making some obligatory Star Trek references) I really found video to be a great way to communicate. Our conversation took on a different level of depth. We could see each other's facial expressions, hand movements used to illustrate points and were overall experienced, I thought, richer communication.
Not only that, but at one point, my brother utilized the rear camera on his iPhone and took me on a tour of his office, pointing out the exam rooms, the receptionist, even the weather outside. To me, that was the most powerful part of Face Time. I was able to be there, in Las Vegas, in my brother's office in real time without leaving my chair.
Get to the point already...
So this got me thinking about the value of live video tours of far off locations, and of course I thought of construction and the power of Face Time on a jobsite.
Construction is really all about time management. You have a lot to do, and only so many hours to do it in, so the more efficient you are, the faster you get the building up and the happier the developer is. Delays upset everyone.
Along with that certainty, it is certain that the project will never go as planned. There will always be new information, weather delays, unexpected conditions and mistakes that delay the project. Many of these delays necessitate a lengthy process to re-plan some part of the construction based on found conditions. However, what if we could drastically shorten the time from problem to solution? Imagine this:
A Superintendent walking the jobsite comes across a problem where some installed components will clash with other existing installed building components. Instead of stopping the job and getting the Project Manager and/or Architect to come down to the site to review the problem, develop a solution, get approval from the Owner and then issue the instructions, the Superintendent could initiate a call to the Project Manager, describe the situation, then turn on his camera to show the PM the on-site conditions. He could then conference in the Architect, Engineer and Owner (wherever they are) immediately and get it resolved and approved in a drastically shortened period from the normal process.
Also, think of a Developer located in another site that wants to be kept up to date on his project. The General Contractor could literally walk his client through the project on a weekly basis and discuss any needed changes or concerns; instantly.
It's about communication
For construction to be successful, there has to be great communication. The world of email is fast and convenient, but you lose so much information in the process. In person communication is rich and satisfying but can take a lot of time and money depending on where the parties are. I think Apple could really revolutionize industries (like construction) by making in-person communication as fast, easy and convenient as an email or a phone call.
It's definitely yet to be seen whether this will catch on or not, and there are definitely some technology and wireless network hurdles to get over before it becomes commonplace, but I believe that a forward thinking developer or contractor should start to seriously look at the impact that handheld video calling could have on their projects.
What do you think about the future of this kind of technology in Construction? Stud or dud? Please leave comments to continue the discussion. Thanks.