Once upon a time, not so long ago, there were no mobile apps for the trucking industry at all, not one. There were, of course, tools to help drivers accomplish particular tasks—things like telephone directories to look up service suppliers, paper maps for route planning, and road signs for navigation, for instance, but no apps. And now there are countless apps just for trucking alone in a total mobile app universe numbering something well north of two million by some counts.
In fact, app developers and trucking seem to be joining together in a fine sort of marriage of convenience. This most mobile workforce is wholeheartedly embracing those most mobile business tools, and the app developers are returning trucking’s affection with (what else?) more apps. It can be marvelous but also overwhelming.
App stores offer reviews, ratings and suggestions to make it a little easier to find the right app to meet your needs. There are also online sites that make various attempts at curating apps to help you winnow down the choices to something more manageable. The App Crawler, for instance, allows you to search by turning on various relevant fields. It can pop up a collection of apps for truckers almost faster than you can say app.
Unconventional products, promotion
Interestingly, programs developed from the beginning as mobile apps (rather than scaled down from more comprehensive software programs to suit mobile devices) sometimes follow business development models as unconventional as the products themselves. Trucker Path, for instance, is one of the hottest new apps for professional truck drivers.
The Trucker Path standard application is free and available on Android and iOS-based smartphones and tablets. It provides a trip planner plus very detailed information about points of interest along the way, including hotels or motels, weigh stations, truck stops, truck washes, restaurants, and rest areas.
“We have been compared to Google’s Waze, [a community-based traffic and navigation app],” says Jeff Ogren, COO of Trucker Path, “and it is very similar to Waze but without the navigation element and developed especially for trucking. The app is free. We really want people engaging.
“The way apps are measured these days is by number of users and by growth,” he explains. “Our information has been crowd-sourced and we are up to about 250,000 users now. When you have that much growth, information begins to get accurate. We’ve seen lots of growth and it has largely been by word of mouth. It has been really neat to see the response. All reviews are so positive.
“Our investors have been patient and encouraging,” he adds. Revenue, it is hoped, will come later. For Trucker Path, the revenue source may be a pending freight-tracking function for brokers and others. “Freight tracking is a function we are adding,” Ogren says. “It is in beta testing now.”
Back in the pre-app days, successful business proposals deserving of capitalization required clearly identified potential revenue streams and earnings projections. But that was then. In the app world, gathering a real user/fan base sometimes comes first. That provided, app suppliers can expand their offerings with additional functions that can be offered on a pay-for-use basis.
The other road to app development is just the opposite—where established companies wrap existing products or services with new, often free apps to bring additional value to customers with the goal of earning increased loyalty and additional business. “We are introducing companion apps to our telematics solutions to augment the driver’s experience,” says Randy Boyles, senior vice president of PeopleNet. “When it comes to apps, so much is about convenience. [We want to take this to the fleet trucking community. Apps further our vision of providing a complete mobile offering.]
“In [our] Services and Solutions [app], continuous improvement is critical,” explains Jose Martinez, business solutions manager for Goodyear Tire & Rubber, which enhanced its service program with the addition of an app three years ago. “It is very different than a physical product, a tire. You need to keep up, to evolve constantly. We are a manufacturing company, but in many cases, services are as important or sometimes even more so.”
This idea may be the energy at the very heart of the app phenomena. At the risk of offering too many analogies, imagine an app like a piton hammered by a climber into the crevice of a rock face to secure a line. It is a small tool with a very, very specific task to do, but if it holds and if it works, the user is securely tethered—and darned glad to be so.
An app sampler
A comprehensive listing of apps for the trucking industry would be as big as those once-indispensable paper phone directories mentioned earlier. Here, instead, is a very small sampling of mobile applications for trucking. These are included to provide a sense of the range of personal and professional apps that are being developed for truck drivers and for truck fleets—from checking fuel prices to finding a place to park, counting calories to scanning documents.
There are literally dozens and dozens of others from which to choose. Many, if not most, technology suppliers, for instance, are making app versions of at least portions of their software functionality available. Equipment suppliers are adding apps to help customers in need of roadside service or using apps to provide remote functionality/convenience to the operation of on-board equipment. And then there are apps created to manage things you never knew needed managing at all, like one app to remind you to drink water (not included here).
If you’ve developed an app for trucking, Fleet Owner is creating an online app resource to compile relevant apps for the trucking industry. More details, along with how you can have your app included, will be forthcoming in the near future.
The apps listed in this sampler are all available through Google Play or the App Store on iTunes, unless otherwise noted:
AllStays, Truck Stops and Travel Plazas: A frequently updated, ad-free app with an impressive level of detail about truck stops, travel plazas, motels that advertise truck parking, turnouts and rest areas, truck washes, tank cleaning, truck dealerships, highway conditions, road laws, idling laws, and more. Truck stop details, for instance, can include showers, restaurants, Internet, laundry, scales, parking spaces, propane, game rooms, bulk DEF availability, tire care, truck stop electrification, Western Union, check cashing, and more. Ratings and reviews are also included along with the ability to apply filters to suit user preferences. A demo is available.
Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker: By MyFitnessPal, this recently updated app is designed to help people keep track of the calories they consume and the calories they burn through exercise. With more than 5 million food items in the database (who knew there were so many food choices out there?), it is tough to imagine what tidbits might be left out.
A helpful feature is a display featuring calorie allowance for the day, calories consumed, calories burned, and calories left to enjoy. Requires iOS 7.0 or later. Optimized for iPhone 5, 6 and 6 Plus. (App Store only)
CamScanner: Offered by INSTIG, CamScanner turns smartphones into portable scanners to allow users to archive and send documents in PDF format. The free version has 200 MB of space; the paid version provides 10G of storage plus additional features such as auto uploads and multiple-page and batch scanning. The app made Freightliner’s Team Run Smart’s Top Ten Apps for Truckers list in 2013. (also available through the Windows Phone Store)
Carrier Dashboard: Version 4.1 was released on May 19 by Total Quality Logistics. This version of Carrier Dashboard was developed to allow drivers to search for loads with voice commands. Artificial intelligence means the system “learns” as it goes along. Another new feature called “Take Me Home” is designed to find backhauls.
Drivewyze Bypass: A weigh station bypass app that requires no transponder, Bypass currently works at some 500 sites in 35 states, allowing pre-cleared drivers to drive past participating weigh stations without stopping—saving time and money.
Drivewyze is a hands-free service that is compliant with FMCSA and state distracted driving laws. Automated audible and visual notifications at two miles and one mile ahead of stations provide alerts, so there’s no need for driver interaction. According to Drivewyze, the service (available for $15.75 per month) pays for itself in just two bypasses. A free 30-day trial is also available.
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Goodyear Road Service: Developed especially for owner-operators and smaller fleets in particular, this mobile app from Goodyear Tire & Rubber allows drivers to push one button to contact Goodyear’s in-house call center 24/7 to get fast assistance for roadside events. According to the company, “fast” typically means about 2 hours and 11 minutes from the time a driver calls to when they are back on the road again.
The app also features the ability to pre-store driver and fleet information plus pop-up screens to guide users through the dispatch process. The interactive GPS-enabled map provides information about Goodyear dealers and truck stops nearby.
Telogis Mobile: Telogis offers a suite of mobile applications, including Telogis WorkPlan (which automates HOS, driver vehicle inspection reports and IFTA), Telogis Coach (which provides drivers with real-time feedback on their performance), and Telogis Navigation.
ThermoCall: Unveiled in May, this new app from Webasto was developed to enable drivers to operate up to two engine coolant heaters and two vehicles via text message or a phone call. Heaters can be programmed to start up to four hours in advance. The heating duration can also be set remotely. In addition to the app, users need the ThermoCall module and a SIM card with sufficient credit. (also available through the Windows Phone Store)
TransPath: Offered by a startup company called Transfix, this new free app is a digital freight marketplace that uses an automated system to pair available and Transfix-vetted drivers with loads based on proximity to the freight (among other criteria). The idea is to reduce out-of-route miles and improve productivity. Once a load is digitally “brokered,” everything is tracked and managed by the system, right up through proof of delivery and payment.
Trucker Path: This crowd-sourced app has grown very rapidly to more than 250,000 users—all by word of mouth. From the rave reviews posted, more growth is surely on the way for this app designed to give truck drivers information and reviews about the services and other features along a route, including truck stops, weigh stations, rest areas, scales, low-clearance overpasses, dealerships, hotels/motels, truck washes, restaurants, fuel prices, and more.
uShip for service providers: This mobile app from uShip is designed to help owner-operators or fleets find shipments nearby; place bids from anywhere; ask and answer questions; view booking details, including contact information for customers; check in and update status; and receive online payments.
Weigh My Truck: CAT Scale introduced Weigh My Truck in 2013 to help expedite the weighing process for drivers using CAT Scale services so that they can get back on the road sooner. Weigh My Truck requires that the driver set up an account, provide the email address(es) they want the electronic CAT Scale tickets to go to, provide the truck identification, and have a PayPal account or EFS card.
Once a driver has downloaded the app, he/she can drive onto the CAT Scale, confirm the truck’s identity, and have a PDF copy of the weigh station ticket emailed to their address and/or anyone else specified in the account.
Adventures in Appland
Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for apps:
- Apps can come and go at a pretty dizzying speed. If you are counting on a long-term commitment and lots of user support, check out the app supplier. You might be best served by working with an established company that is adding apps to its primary product/service portfolio rather than a startup with a very lean staff and even leaner funding.
- Keep cyber security in mind, especially if an app requires you to share confidential or mission-critical information to make it work for you. Do a little extra checking to make sure you have good reason to trust the supplier and its data security procedures and protocols.
- Online reviews are a big part of the app selling and buying process, but beware. Almost every app has its fans and its detractors. If the total number of reviews is small, keep in mind that one disappointed app customer or one wild enthusiast do not a valid survey make. It can help to check with other sources you know and trust.
- Apps are often stand-alone tools. That is part of what makes them so darned appealing and user-friendly, but it can also be an obstacle if you are trying to integrate all information sources into a central fleet management system.
“IDC reported that the world’s mobile workforce would surpass 1.3 billion by 2015, which bodes well for companies seeking to more closely manage and maximize the productivity of workers in the field,” observes Erin Cave, vice president of product management, navigation & compliance for Telogis Inc. “Mobile devices, technologies and infrastructure have reached a level of ubiquity and adoption that offers companies a plethora of choices—fostering competition, innovation and ultimately even more choices as the categories advance and technology companies work to make everything better and faster.
“One important choice that companies must face head-on is whether they should decide to go with company-issued solutions such as a dash-mounted device (tablet or head unit) or handheld smartphone,” she adds, “or allow workers to use their own devices (BYOD) on the job. Companies need to be able to have those choices and develop policies and procedures that work for them.”