With the influx of venture capital, countless web-centric apps have flooded the agricultural market. However, this has almost masked the movement of traditional ag app companies in a new direction. The course these developers seem to be taking is one in which apps themselves are designed to do more of the heavy lifting (computation) and be less reliant on an Internet connection to process and return results.
I would suggest this shift started when players in the industry who’ve been around the longest learned the hard way that even though Internet service may appear seamless on a carrier map, the number of low/no bar holes on even a well-covered farm can be significant. To address this problem, apps are being designed to cache more data and make it available for gaps in service. The data caching enables an app to keep functioning even when an Internet connection is lost intermittently, making the experience more client-friendly.
Where We’re Headed
Ultimately this path is leading ag app developers to the conclusion that the phone in a farmer’s hand can be as or more powerful and useful than his desktop computer, regardless of Internet connection stability.
With this in mind, the phone and tablet are becoming the native targets for developers’ next generation applications. Additionally, the cloud, like the old mainframes of times past, is evolving into the primary portal for sharing and storing data.
This has already started happening right under our noses with simple apps like Mix Tank, N-Calc and ScoutPro. It has also grown into full apps like iCropTrak, developed by us at Cogent3D Inc., which processes tractor data into zones and makes recommendations without processing in the cloud. Instead of using the cloud as the processing engine, which would suffer from spotty reception, apps like these use it for backup, collaboration, and sharing. Combining data from multiple users and from constant communication with other third party systems like irrigation, weather and soil moisture web data streams.
All of this ends up having a positive effect on the end user who stands to benefit from lower cellular bills (less data going back and forth), a more consistent user experience, less unintentional sharing of data and a new focus on decision support tools unlike the ones we are getting today with our web/cloud and desktop-centric views of the world.
With mobile devices getting even faster, we can expect the migration toward this type of service to accelerate. What will this look like? You can probably count on more changes coming for our tractors as they transform into the central farm cloud — integrated with numerous other local systems pushing and pulling data around the farm to provide just-in-time alerts and suggestions that will make each farmer more productive and informed.
The future will be unpredictable and cyclical at the same time. Expect ag software to follow the path of traditional software. It’s likely to shift between server-side to client-side computing like a pendulum, becoming more powerful and efficient at each pass. Each generation of smaller, cheaper client-side device, will compensate first for limitation and later exploit unused power, adding value to user experience.