Security On The Fly

Mobile community shatters attendance records at worldwide security conference

How significant is the mobile application market around the world today? You just need to look at some of the numbers to understand how widespread mobile apps have become, even in the physical security market, and how adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices that are used with these apps has gone from leading-edge to commonplace.

At this year’s Mobile World Congress—the international trade event for people in the mobile communications industry—attendance records were shattered. More than 67,000 visitors from 205 countries attended the four-day event in Barcelona, Spain. Among those visitors, 3,500 were CEOs, and more than half of the attendees were C-level staff, attesting to the importance of the mobile-apps industry.

Some other numbers that support the growth and prominence of the app market come from current app download leader Apple, whose iPhone and iPad concepts helped spur the growth of the app market. The company has more than 500,000 apps available in the iTunes app store, and by the time you read this, the company will have achieved its 25-billionth download.

The road to mobile apps

So how did all of this happen? There are three major driving forces that brought us to where we are today, starting with the availability of advanced mobile networks.

When talking about advancements, industry experts speak in terms of first, second, third and now fourth generations of mobile telecommunications, or 1G through 4G. The first generation of standards was introduced in the 1980s. The radio signals that 1G networks used were analog, and they offered voice and very limited data services. In 1983, the first cellular phone was introduced—a clunky, boxy model called the Motorola DynaTac 8000x that sold for $3,995. The radio signals of second-generation standards were no longer analog but instead were digitally encrypted. Going all-digital opened the door for digital data services such as email and SMS text messages.

Since then, we’ve rapidly moved to 3G and 4G—the former bringing on broadband data and the latter providing high-speed broadband that enables streaming video and other capabilities that have transformed cellphones from portable devices to fully functioning communications, productivity and entertainment platforms. Coupled with the advancements and availability of mobile networks was the user interface revolution that transitioned us from text in the 1980s to graphical user interfaces in the 1990s to today’s ability to incorporate touchscreens, voice activation, GPS capability, built-in megapixel cameras and more.

Of course, none of this would matter if the adoption rate didn’t keep pace with the technological developments. Just last year, smartphone users surpassed users of other calling options. By 2015, it’s predicted that 84 percent of people will be smartphone owners and operators.

Analytics firm Flurry announced in June 2011 that the average person spends 81 minutes a day using his or her apps versus 74 minutes of traditional Web browsing on a desktop or laptop computer. Just a year earlier, the breakdown was 64 minutes on the Web versus just 44 minutes on apps. Looking at how that mobile-app time is spent, the majority is still focused on gaming and social networking; but, as businesses develop more apps to extend the reach and efficacy of their products, the numbers could change.

Security Gets on Board

Mobile technology is so prolific that even the security industry, notorious for its slowness to adopt new technology, has gotten on board.

And how are we seeing this come about? Within the physical security market, mobile apps can take security professionals into the field so they can make the best decisions possible based on real-time intelligence. This is a means to provide security on the go because mobile apps and the devices they are used on create an always-on, connected environment.

No longer tied solely to the command center and the computer screen, mobile apps allow for remote monitoring and forensic investigation at the site or hundreds of miles away.

Consider this real-life example: Casually working around the house, a man is surprised when he receives an alert on his iPhone showing him live video of someone breaking into his downtown office. Integrated with his DVR, he had installed the mobile app for his customer demos, never really thinking he would have a reallife opportunity to put it to the ultimate test.

But there it was: video showing a man breaking through the front door of his office and stealing valuable equipment. He opened up the remote streaming video and provided the 911 dispatch play-by-play information on where and what the thief was up to, including when he walked out of the building and the make, model and color of the vehicle. His account was so accurate that by the time he was drivingto the office, he passed the police on the side of the road where they had pulled over the suspect.

With the truck full of stolen equipment and the video footage, the police certainly had ample evidence to prosecute and convict the thief.

Leaders within the security industry have begun to develop apps such as this that extend the capabilities of existing security products, whether it is video management software or access control systems. Through the use of an app, security officers or business owners can remotely monitor video; control PTZ cameras with standard pinch-and-zoom gestures; display multiple, simultaneous video streams; search for and play back video; and even email a snapshot from a video and send it to someone else—all while on the go.

On the intrusion side, there are now apps that allow homeowners to receive, view and acknowledge alarms; check on door status; unlock doors; and put lights and locks on a schedule.

With home automation systems, there is the capability, via mobile apps, to arm and disarm security systems, control HVAC systems, view live and recorded video and automate the arming schedule for access control.

In developing apps for the security industry, the goal is not to replicate the standard desktop experience or to replace it. Rather, it’s about making sure the interface and user experience will have added value.

The traditional command center isn’t at risk; but, because of budget constraints and advancements in technology, the ability to do more with less is enhanced as security officers are able to head into the field armed with devices and apps that can broaden their capabilities. Mobile devices, even with their expanded bandwidth and processing power, wouldn’t be able to do everything that a complex, PC-based security system can do. Rather, end users are seeking apps that can take key functionality into the field.

As mobile devices and apps proliferate, there is some concern about how to best protect information. After all, while having security capabilities on a phone provides convenience and 24/7 access, it also brings the risk of having this information fall into the wrong hands. End users want to be safe about the transmission of data and what could be shared via a mobile device. Not being sure of the security of the information can be a roadblock to implementation.

Developers of these mobile apps are making sure secure credentials are in place and users can access the information only through authentication processes such as secure user names and passwords.

Those concerned about their personal privacy as they download apps for business or personal use can be assured that the greater global community of developers, device makers, OS companies, mobile operators and others have developed guidelines to ensure their privacy. These app guidelines were announced at the recent Mobile World Congress.

Beyond Security

In examining the trends related to apps and security, another key one is the ability to use security-oriented apps for non-security purposes. A retailer, for example, that already has surveillance cameras in place can now use a mobile app that allows security officers to monitor those cameras and access the video.

In addition, the same cameras and video, accessed via the app, can be used to monitor in real time business operations and employee behavior, including watching for instances of internal theft. A mobile app can provide a live view of a stockroom, warehouse or shipping dock to keep track of inventory or to confirm a shipment or order received. If there is a false alarm, security or someone else within the company has the ability to respond instantly and react appropriately. This retailer also can evaluate staffing needs by viewing checkout or drive-thru lanes to determine how full the parking lot is and the flow of customers in and out of the store.

In the transportation sector, security officers using mobile apps tied to video management systems can view checkpoint closures and terminal evacuations and can monitor terminals, stations and roadways for suspicious persons and activities.

Manufacturers may want to use these security-developed apps so they can better monitor product creation and movement on conveyor systems, or when products are being transported within a warehouse.

Everything from attendance management to workflows can be monitored via these apps that were developed first for security purposes. This type of crossover usage is becoming more common, as noted in a Frost & Sullivan report that points out that 25 percent of users deploy security systems in a non-security setting.

What the Future Holds

So what are the next steps in the mobileapp world? Certainly one of the leading challenges for companies wanting to create apps for their customers is seeing what operating system will emerge as the leader. Although the Apple iOS has gotten out of the gate quickly in the apps market because of the popularity of iPhones and iPads, it is predicted that by 2015 Android will have 49 percent of the market share and that it will continue to grow.

For developers, the challenge is to create apps on platforms that hit their customer base. And there is the realization that this could be a moving target. Developers will continue to monitor the situation and develop apps that suit their needs and those of their end users. Currently, the focus is on Apple iOS and Android rather than the antiquated BlackBerry platform.

Another area that will impact future apps includes near-field communication— a standard whereby smartphones in close proximity to or touching each other can carry out a transaction or exchange data. Mobile devices in general will continue to build on their functionality with improved video and GPS capabilities.

The ability to read QR codes via a smartphone may not directly enhance security capabilities, but it can provide information to end users that will be helpful in the setup and maintenance of equipment by allowing them to access data sheets or installation manuals through a QR app.

Even advancements in multi-core mobile processors are allowing for longer battery life, reduced power usage and faster multitasking.

Finally, developers are continuing to explore the means whereby a single app can be used to bring multiple, independent systems into a single platform, such as connecting video monitoring, event management, access control and the like. This combination of functionalities will provide a great value-add for the end user.

And adding value is what apps are all about, especially now as they continue to roll out into the marketplace. The capabilities they provide are meant to enhance existing products, not replace them, and to open up users to a new world of possibilities.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Security Today.

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