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Living in a Mobile-App World

It’s hard to remember how we even communicated before the advent of the smartphone. Mobile app technology has certainly altered the way we do things and even how we conduct our daily lives. We have become a society of instant gratification and one that is constantly on the go.  Now, with many of these apps, we can multi-task all at the touch of a button.

Mobile technology—in the form of smartphones, tablets and notebooks—has certainly transformed us forever.  We can send important files almost anywhere in mere seconds and we can also remotely work with clients in real-time no matter where in the world they might be.

Mobile apps—software applications developed specifically for use on small mobile computing devices—are also helping change the business landscape of the sign and commercial graphics industry in a number of areas. There are a host of printing, estimating and design apps out there that are helping make life easier for sign shops and their clients. Let’s take a look some of these apps, what they do, how they work and the solutions they provide.

Making Things Easier

“Mobile apps are increasing in convenience and ease-of-use, allowing the user to access information and perform tasks while on the move and when operating from remote locations,” says Eric Zimmerman, product manager, color products, Roland DGA, Irvine, California.

“In our industry, mobile apps such as Roland Printer Assist are providing print service providers with mobile access to a physical printer control panel. With this app, we’ve added tutorial and educational features that are useful to end users, including calibration testing and a step-by-step interface for performing periodic maintenance procedures,” he explains.

Tracking Business Performance

Dan Sammartino, business development manager at Hewlett-Packard, based in Boise, Idaho, adds that customers need to deliver urgent jobs on time, print 24/7 and have the ability to track business performance. “This is all helping drive usage of mobile apps. Additionally, the proliferation of the digital era has created multiple ways to interact and engage with customers and clients.”

He says customers need to monitor their printers and business performance on the go, and that has helped establish mobile apps as a key asset. “Consumer habits are influencing business strategies, and mobile solutions have emerged as one of the pillars of digital innovation for the signage industry.”

He points out that printer manufacturers are aiming for competitive differentiation by leveraging mobile apps to integrate digital/physical assets and digital/physical customer engagement.

“The biggest trend we foresee in apps is that they will eventually be personalized at an individual business user level and optimized for local use, offering social interaction with customers,” Sammartino says. “App developers are constantly generating new application ideas to offer more services and usability advantages.”

Mutoh's VSM

“Mobile apps are definitely making life easier for operators and keeping owners closer to the action,” says David Conrad, director of marketing, North and Latin America at Mutoh America, Inc., a printer manufacturer based in Phoenix, Arizona.

“Solutions such as remote printer management apps, like Mutoh’s ValueJet Status Monitor, allow operators the opportunity to monitor printer operation from outside the production floor, giving them flexibility to manage other aspects of the business. These apps also provide owners or smaller shops the luxury of getting time away from the front of the printer. This makes for more productive personnel and a more comfortable work environment.”

Conrad says that Mutoh’s ValueJet Status Monitor was the first remote printer app of its kind when it was launched several years back. 

“Known simply as VSM, the ValueJet Status Monitor is lightweight software exclusive to Mutoh and is used to monitor the status of your ValueJet printer’s ink system, heaters and even check for the latest firmware for updates,” Conrad says. “VSM also utilizes Mutoh’s ColorVerify process control system to monitor color output for consistent color production print after print. VSM makes your workflow easy by sending you email notifications to alert you with several pre-programmed messages including printer status, ink status, media status and more. It’s basically a remote control for your printer.”

Conrad says that Mutoh’s VSM ships standard with all ValueJet printers and is free of charge. He adds that shops are using the app for improved time management and to help free them up from being tied to the printer during long production runs.

 Estimating Apps

Estimating software is one area that has seen some new developments in app technology. For example, there are apps available to help you do wraps and other sign job estimates. But one of the more interesting devices is called Spike by ike. Spike is the world’s first laser accurate Smartphone measurement solution, which can be used for on-site sign measurements that can easily be used to develop job estimates.

“Spike allows you to quickly measure locations for signage by capturing the width, height, and area of a space—simply by capturing a photo from a smartphone or tablet. The Spike device (a laser range finder), Spike mobile app, and the user’s smartphone or tablet all work together to provide estimating solutions for the sign industry,” says Amanda McGrory-Dixon, content marketing coordinator at ikeGPS Inc., Broomfield, Colorado.

Vanessa Bagnato, product marketing manager, adds that Spike is ideal for use during the initial site survey and estimation process. “Once on location, capture photos of the available space or existing signage using a smartphone and Spike device, and then take measurements from the photo using the Spike app. Measurements can be taken by drawing on the photo while on site, or once back at the office.”

Bagnato says that the beauty of this product is users can capture measurements of the available area or existing sign during site surveys without the need for ladders, expensive labor, bucket trucks or cranes.

“Sign shops can keep installation and service trucks busy on current and not potential jobs,” Bagnato says.

Once on site, users capture photos of the available space or existing sign using a smartphone or tablet and Spike device.

“When taking measurements for signs, you are often at an angle from the area where the sign will be placed,” Bagnato says. “To collect accurate measurements, correct the angle with the Spike alignment rectangle. By drawing a rectangular shape on the surface of your object, you are correcting the perspective of the surface.”

Once users have completed the alignment rectangle step, they can draw measurements on the photo such as area, height, width, length and distance using the Spike app. These measurements can be used to create estimates, design mockups, assess installation needs and complete permit applications.

“A photo can also be exported to the online, cloud-based tools," Bagnato says. "By uploading a photo to the cloud, you can view, edit, measure and download Spike photos using a browser. Users can easily access your original photo at any time via the Spike app or their browser to view or re-measure the photo.”

Bagnato adds that the Spike app is free but the Spike device must be purchased through ikeGPS or one of its distributors.

Mactac's Design App

Mobile apps are also being used across many industries for graphic design and product selection.  One app, Mactac’s DesignScape3D, is helping change the design industry by providing print service providers, designers, architects and brand owners with a kinesthetic approach to visualizing graphic applications in use, while providing all of the necessary information to specify the right product for the application.

Rick Moore, GM at Mactac, Stow, Ohio, says that DesignScape3D is one of the biggest trends in this area. 

“It is a professional sales assistant, a specification tool, a product library and a game that showcases every graphic application possible in different environments that are common to print service providers,” Moore says. “DesignScape3D provides a platform that can be useful for every constituent in our industry, and it is free for use by all.”

Moore says that DesignScape3D film application/design software has six different environments.

“For example, one of the locations is a shopping mall where the user can observe the outside of the mall, or walk into various areas of the mall, such as the lobby, or the food court, or a convenient store,” Moore says. “While ‘shopping,’ the user can see different graphics applications in use, and explore what product is being used in that application simply by touching it (if using a tablet) or clicking on it (via desktop). The app brings up which Mactac product is suitable for that application, and also alternative recommendations. Performance and technical assistance brochures are available, and you can even order sample sheets right from the tool itself.”

He says that DesignScape3D is free for download from the App store, or for download for tablet, Windows and Mac computers at www.mactac.com/DS3.

Moore adds that designers, architects and printers are using DesignScape3D as an idea generator and product specifier for their branding campaigns. 

“Our distributor sales channel uses the tool for education and a way to ensure that graphics applications are specified correctly, to reduce error in product selection,” he says.

HP Latex Mobile App

Sammartino says HP’s Latex Mobile App 2.0 provides remote monitoring capabilities for HP Latex 300 and 3000 series printers.  “It the give users a status of their printer while they are away from it, staying abreast of consumables levels. They can also remotely track jobs through completion and monitor them by date in the job history.” He adds users can also view metrics on their tablets as well (tablet version only).

HP Latex Mobile App 2.0 is available as a free download for both iPhone and Android devices. It is compatible with Android 4.1.2 or later and iOS 7 or later, and requires the printer and the smart phone or tablet to be connected to the Internet.

Sammartino reports that end users are utilizing the HP Latex Mobile App for various purposes. “It’s allowing them to keep abreast of what’s going on with the printer while away. The customer receives alerts informing him about supplies, the substrate path and situations when the printer is not ready. It notifies the customer when action is needed.  It also allows them to monitor ink levels and the amount of media remaining in real time to avoid surprises and respond accordingly.  Lastly, they can monitor job completion and job history by tracking print jobs through to completion and monitoring jobs printed via job history.”

Roland Printer Assist

Roland Printer Assist, currently available for Roland’s VersaEXPRESS RF-640 eco-solvent printer and Texart RT-640 and Texart XT-640 dye-sublimation printers, is a free app available at the iTunes App store that offers easy management of each of these inkjets by accessing the control panel directly from an iPad.  It allows the user to remotely access a printer’s control panel, view print status, run machine calibration and perform maintenance. Users can also manage multiple printers from one iPad.

Zimmerman says shops are using the Printer Assist app to power on, power off and perform general maintenance procedures from just about anywhere within their facilities. “They can do many of things they need to do in order to get their machines ready using this app. This makes it easy for the user to multi-task.  For instance, the shop owner can arrive in the morning, sit down at his or her desk and go through e-mail received, while at the same time using the app to prep a printer in another part of the shop for the day’s projects,” he concludes.

It’s All Happening at the Zoo

One other printing app of note comes from Bell, California-based print wholesaler Zoo Printing, who continues to revolutionize mobile technology for print with ZooApp. They recently introduced version 1.2 that now includes a pricing calculator for every product, order tracking through every department, estimate reviewing, proof viewing/approval, UPS tracking, tier tracking and account information, current coupons and specials, a help ticket system, order history and more.

An App for Every Purpose

The number of sign and graphics-related apps is enormous and growing all the time as suppliers and manufacturers develop more ways to provide their customers modern solutions for their business. Included with this article is a list of well-known industry apps, but be sure to check with your preferred manufacturers and suppliers to find out about their digital app offerings and how they can help your business.

—Reprinted from the February 2016 edition of Sign & Digital Graphics magazine