Today, with the tap of your finger on a tablet or smartphone, you can pull up your Netflix queue, locate the nearest restroom and even generate potential names for your rock band.
Apple's tagline "There's an app for that" rings true, and the trucking industry is no exception.

Mobile technology is changing the way fleets do business and the way drivers work and live on the road. Now fleets can monitor fuel prices, receive signed documents from drivers in an instant and send drivers training videos while they're on the road. Drivers can see their safety scores, search for and bid on loads, even get in line for truckstop showers without getting out of their cabs.

The number of handheld communication devices in service in the trucking industry will soon reach 900,000, according to Clement Driscoll, founder and principal of C.J. Driscoll & Associates, a consulting and research firm for mobile resource management. Driscoll says 80% of all fleets will eventually have some sort of mobile system in place.<!break>

Many drivers are so attached to their mobile devices that when owner-operators were asked by uShip what they'd be willing to give up to keep their phones, 20% said they would give up their CB radios, 16% said they'd give up their spouses and 8% said they'd give up their pets.

The number of downloaded apps also is climbing at a significant rate. In 2010, the world downloaded more than 10.9 billion apps. That's expected to climb to 76.9 billion in 2014, says International Data Corp.

App offerings

The trucking industry uses apps for three main purposes, says Christian Schenk, vice president, market development and product marketing for Xata Corp.:
- To improve safety and compliance (think CSA, FMCSA and DOT regulations)
- To reduce costs (think reduced fuel usage and fewer out-of-route miles)
- To increase customer satisfaction (think more on-time deliveries and real-time ETA updates)

Safety management company GreenRoad, for example, has an app focused on driver performance. From their Apple iOS or Android devices, drivers can access safety scores, idling rate, trip details, even read quick safety tips.

Oil Price Information Services offers the OPIS Mobile Spot Ticker app for fuel buying. The app monitors spot markets and alerts users through text or email when the market hits a pre-defined threshold. OPIS says the app can save fleets 3 cents a gallon on each load.

Fleets and truck makers are creating their own apps as well. Con-way Freight introduced an app in January that lets customers create personalized rate quotes for shipments within the U.S. and Canada, as well as track shipments, view shipping documents and locate and call service centers. Freightliner recently released an app to celebrate its 70th anniversary, complete with a timeline of the company's milestones, product information and events calendar.

Atlas Van Lines is modernizing its inventory process with a new app for its professional van operators. PVOs can scan the contents of a move and note their condition. They also can photograph items, email the inventory to the customer on the spot and capture customer signatures.

Joab Schultheis, director of IT development for Atlas, says one huge benefit of the app is that drivers don't have to hand-write inventories. "If you have a large shipment, you could be dealing with 25-30 pages of handwritten inventory," he says. "That's pretty laborious, and it's hard for anybody to write that much legibly."

Schultheis says van operators have said they feel more professional in the eyes of the customer with the app and that customers seem to prefer email to paper.

For many fleets, this mobile technology use is translating into more efficiency and accuracy.

"The cost savings in a paperless environment comes from not having to re-enter data at any point, all the way through the process," says Ken Weinberg, vice president, Carrier Logistics Inc.

"The bottom line is it's all about engaging and communicating," says Craig Lis, marketing and communications for CLI. "They're really just new vehicles to engage with clients, your partners, your employees. It's a better way to reach out in a lot of places in a lot of ways."

Making life on the road easier

Drivers also are reaping the benefits of the app surge.

"Many apps also help improve drivers' quality of life by giving them anytime, anywhere access to information, professional tools and streaming video and audio," Xata's Schenk says. "And with a driver shortage on the horizon, these apps - particularly those that connect drivers with their family and friends - can go a long way to making the profession more attractive."

Apps such as Twitter, Facebook and Skype let drivers stay connected with family and friends or with the back office. Rolling Strong offers the RoadApp to Wellness, which offers health tips, clinic locations and restaurant nutrition guides. Fuel locator apps take the guesswork out of finding the cheapest nearby fuel.

TravelCenters of America offers the TruckSmart app for TA and Petro Stopping Centers branded travel centers, which lists amenities of each location, available parking spaces and also lets drivers reserve a shower.

"Rather than having to go to the UltraOne kiosk, they can get into the queue from the app, and once a shower is ready, it sends them an email, and it will be held for 15 minutes," says Sean Kubovcik, chief technology officer at TravelCenters. "A driver can be in the fueling lane filling up and put themself in the queue. It saves them 15-20 minutes right there."

Other popular features of the app are a current list of specials and promotions, one-touch calls to Road-Squad roadside service and directions to travel center locations.

Although apps are increasing safety, efficiency, customer satisfaction and driver lifestyle, there are still questions about how this technology will evolve in the industry.

The first big question fleets will have to answer is: Who pays? Right now, many drivers use apps on their own personal devices. The same iPhone they use to find cheap fuel might also be used to text a spouse when off duty. The same consumer-grade tablet used to watch a driver training video could also be used to catch up on missed episodes of "Storage Wars."

"Issues like privacy are still yet to be answered," says Norm Ellis, vice president, sales, services and marketing for Qualcomm Enterprise Services. "How do we keep apps separate from a privacy standpoint and a payment standpoint? Who pays for data time? Does the driver pay for all the data or just the data they use? There are lots of variables with that."

Although mobile devices such as the iPad and Android phones are ubiquitous, they might not be right for fleets that need something sturdier.

"In some cases, consumer-grade tablets such as the iPad might not be suitable for a driver who is climbing in and out of a truck 15 times a day and encountering different weather and temperatures," Ellis says. "In the future, we'll probably see more rug-gedized [consumer] devices or certain packaging for ruggedization."

Also, fleets have to decide whether tethered or untethered devices make more sense for their operations.

Although mobile devices (whether consumer-grade or designed specifically with trucking in mind) make things such as signature-capture or OS&D capture much more convenient, Ellis says some fleets prefer tethered devices over smartphones, tablets or other handheld devices because there is less of a chance something will happen to them.

"If you're running 500 trucks, how many devices or handsets may or may not work for some reason during the day?" Ellis says. "If something happens to that device, is the driver going to climb in the back of the truck and read off the boxes where he's supposed to go?"

Ellis says in the future, fleets might opt for both tethered and untethered devices.

"Maybe I have one in the cab that's tethered and then I have a portable device where I can do things like signature-capture," Ellis says. With falling hardware and data costs and increasing functionality, this might be a viable option for fleets in the future.

As costs fall and capabilities soar, it will be hard for fleets to ignore the opportunity to better their business with mobile technology.

"I think we're really just scratching the surface on this," says Kevin Johnson, director of driver management for British Columbia-based fleet Costal Pacific Xpress. "This technology is just beginning to emerge in our industry, and the benefits to the truck driver are many. The possibilities are exciting and virtually endless."

Favorite apps

We asked fleets and drivers: What apps and mobile devices do you use?

"All of our drivers have company-issued iPhones. The app called Drive Axle allows the driver to take a picture of the bill of lading, or of the load, then they can add some notes, select an email and the app cleans up the document and sends to the broker or office needing the information.

"The CH Robinson app allows the driver to have all information sent to their phone, no worries about writing a number down wrong, etc. The app also allows them to make their check calls, for when loaded, empty, en route etc. No being on eternal hold to the broker."
- Chuck Amen, corporate transportation operations manager, Hillyard Inc.

"A number of our drivers are using the TransFlo Now! iPhone app. With it, the driver can use his iPhone to fax PODs, etc. back to HQ. While not appropriate for large jobs, it works really well for single pages. It can save a driver a tremendous amount of time previously spent looking for a fax machine."
- Kevin Johnson, director of driver management, Coastal Pacific Xpress

"Google Maps satellite view is my go-to app for trip planning, followed by The Weather Channel premium app. A favorite is the TA/Petro app for its 'no-kiosk' convenience. I simply can't imagine modern trucking without a smartphone or tablet and its capabilities."
-Chip Warterfield, driver,Upstaging Inc.

"I use the Wright Express Android app called 'Octane' to find the lowest pump price. You can search by type of fuel or search radius, and it tells you the last time fuel was purchased at that price. It is obviously limited to stations that take Wright Express cards, but that's a lot of stations."
-Aaron Huotari, vice president, Lynch Logistics Inc.

PeopleNet Integrates with Google Earth
Google Earth views of Onboard Event Recording events are now available within the PeopleNet Fleet Manager.

Safety managers can now see exactly where an event happened with the aid of a Google map, including the location of a sudden acceleration or deceleration, with event "breadcrumbs" on the maps. Onboard Event Recording information is provided for each "breadcrumb."

Noregon JPro Fleet Diagnostics v5.3
Noregon Systems released its JPro Commercial Fleet Diagnostics software v5.3, offering updated coverage for heavy-duty and Ford vehicles.

Features include a new screen for the accurate graphical display of aftertreatment systems, updated fault code information for nearly every OEM and support for natural gas engine data.

Dock Management System from CLI

Carrier Logistics Inc. launched an improved version of its Dock Management System, with features such as reweigh integration, misload prevention, dimension capture, piece-level tracking and complete automation of paperwork.

The new DMS offers real-time manifesting with full revenue capture while helping move shipments in the right direction.