Quick, what's a smartphone? If you're thinking screen, keypad, ability to run add-on programs, you're right. It's also a Web browser, a still and video camera, and it includes an increasingly sophisticated array of features that make it a favored management tool by some home improvement company owners.

Demand Will Explode

Smartphones are no longer just for gadget-lovers and the tech savvy. A recent Bloomberg article reports that by 2012 smartphone sales will exceed sales of desktop computers, and that sales of smartphones will more than triple in the next two years, from 139.3 million units in 2008 to 491.1 million in 2012.

Between Windows Mobile, Blackberry, the Apple iPhone, and Google's Android (projected to be the second most-used smartphone in the world by 2012), smartphones are finding their way into more pockets, typically as cell (or "flip") phone users upgrade to phones offering wireless Internet connection.

Rob Therrien, president of The Melanson Co., a roofing contractor in Keene, N.H., says the advantage of his Blackberry is that it gives him the option of not having to "lug a laptop around" when he travels. Recently he engaged several other company owners he knows in a multiple texting conversation about who had sheets of copper roofing to spare.

Smartphone Required

Project managers and installation crew leaders at Bloomfield Construction, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., are required to own smartphones. One of the uses they put them to is taking photos and videos of job conditions and situations that might require an immediate decision by owner Jeff Petrucci. The images are forwarded to Petrucci's iPhone. "I bought the iPhone because I wanted to have e-mail on the road," Petrucci says, rather than constantly having to run back to his office.

In addition to e-mail, "instant access to information" via Google is the major advantage Petrucci enjoys with his smartphone. For instance, a customer might call to say she wants shingles of a particular color. "I can go to the [web]site myself and tell her that particular color is only available in Texas, so she'll have to pick another color," Petrucci says. "People who are computer-savvy get it. Those who aren't are impressed that you can do all this [from your phone]."

And the application Petrucci considers indispensable? Weather.com. "My time in the field is entirely dependent on the weather, so this is a vital app for me. And it's free."