Guest Blog Author:
Thomas F. Heitman
Manager Solutions Consulting at Peak-Ryzex, Inc.
Mobility platforms in the enterprise space are currently undergoing a major transition for a number of reasons. For example, Microsoft has announced end of support dates within only a couple of years for mobile computer operating systems such as Windows CE, WM, Embedded Hand Held and Windows 10 IoT. Once these dates are reached, existing devices with these operating systems will not receive patches/security updates from Microsoft and extended support for existing devices will be left to the manufacturers. As a result, manufacturers are forced to release product with operating systems that will be supported long term.
This transition is having a wide impact in the enterprise space. Areas of the business such as distribution and transportation require robust devices that can survive harsh environments. To date this space has predominantly leveraged mobile Windows based handheld computers with physical keypads, running traditional green screen telnet emulation. Many host systems in place are legacy systems that still utilize telnet emulation interfaces to users that are handling material. Businesses are now looking for devices that will support the physical demands of the enterprise and interface requirements of legacy systems and allow for an easy migration to newer host systems in the future. They are also looking for mobile computers that are capable of providing long-term support from an operating system and network security perspective.
Over recent years, the consumer market has exploded with the ever-increasing adoption of the Android operating system on smartphones. Consumers and mobile device manufacturers alike have been drawn to its open architecture and the widespread availability of applications that can be downloaded from the Google Play website. These reasons have prompted manufacturers of legacy Windows-based devices to simultaneously pursue and release Android-based devices to service the industry moving forward. This includes rugged device manufacturers whose customer base lies solely in industrial, field service, and enterprise business environments.
At first, transitioning from a Windows-based device to an Android based device in these extreme spaces presented challenges to organizations that were accustomed to a certain level of mobile device durability, reliability, and performance – primarily because the early Android devices were designed for consumer applications, not business applications. Consumer grade devices seldom survive typical use in the supply chain. They are not built to withstand the daily rigors of activity in concrete floor workspaces and break more easily when dropped.
Consumer devices often fail in cold storage environments where gloves are required, outdoor areas, and in inclement weather where snow, ice and rain are present. Most Android devices do not offer a physical keypad. The screens are often small. Use of gloved hands in extreme environments is problematic because the virtual keys need to be so large they take up too much screen real-estate. The displays in these devices are not meant to support use when constantly moving between freezer and refrigerated spaces to ambient room temperatures, so they tend to fog up. When condensation or rain hits the screen of a consumer-grade device, it tends to not work properly, seemingly taking on a mind of its own. In addition, most handheld Android devices do not support hot swappable batteries, requiring the user to stop using them to plug in and recharge them before continuing their work.
Things are changing, though. Rugged mobile computer manufacturers are delivering devices that are purpose-built for these extreme use cases, enabling organizations to take advantage of the many benefits that an Android-based device offers their business.
One such device emerging in the market comes from Xplore Technologies, long-time makers of ruggedized tablets. The new M60 Rugged Android handheld computer will hold up to the rigors of usage in extreme environments both indoors and outdoors. It is packed with features including 802.11ac, Bluetooth, NFC, LTE data and voice and an 8200mAh user replaceable battery for long usage between charges. The device is a light (0.8 lb / 369 g), pocket-sized form factor with a bright display that is ideal for both indoor and outdoor use. It also supports bare finger, gloved and wet touch interaction for fast data inputs in any working environment, even inclement weather. An assortment of vehicle, desktop and multi-bay charging options round it out.
By leveraging a truly rugged Android device such as the new Xplore M60 in their warehouses, enterprises will gain a number of immediate and long-term benefits not offered by consumer-grade devices. For example, there will be a shorter learning curve for the enterprise-grade handheld computers among part-time or seasonal workers since many will already be proficient with gesturing, pinch and zoom, scrolling operations and the look and feel of their own personal Android mobile devices. Truly rugged devices are often easier to update regarding operating systems and security patches since they run the professional-grade Android for Work software versus the Android OS versions loaded onto consumer devices. Rugged handhelds such as the Xplore M60 are usually better equipped with multiple wireless technologies to facilitate reliable network connections for workers in both traditional office environments, as well as in the field where signals are not always strong. As such, workers are able to not only capture data in a WiFi environment but also leverage data and voice in the field when augmenting transportation, delivery and logistics operations.
With that being said, enterprises are not only challenged to decide between a consumer-grade or truly rugged mobile device. They must also choose the appropriate device form factor. Some material handling activity is better suited for the use of a handheld form factor versus a larger tablet or 2-in-1 laptop option. They must also decide whether their devices should have a built-in barcode scanner so that workers do not have to rely upon camera conversion of images to barcodes – and to ensure snappy scanning in fast-paced operating environments where workers are expected to input and verify information quickly when conducting inventory and equipment management, quality control, or shipping and receiving activities.
The good news is that, if you decide that Android is the right OS for your organization long-term, there are a growing number of viable options available. Device manufacturers such as Xplore are finding ways to address the diverse mobile computing requirements of the enterprise sector. Extremely rugged handhelds such as the Xplore M60 are being designed specifically to suit the computing needs of materials handlers and other workers that don’t require a larger tablet or laptop to do their jobs, while rugged Android tablets and hybrid 2-in-1 mobile computers are being engineered to support the more data-intensive demands of supervisors and others who split time between the office and shop floor or field and require the full computing experience at all times. This approach is providing flexibility to the mobile workforce, ensuring that each worker has the right technology tools for his or her job, without force-fitting the same mobile device form factor and performance features on all workers. The introduction of devices such as the Xplore M60 also demonstrate rugged computer manufacturers’ long-term support of the Android operating system platform in enterprise environments. With all of the changes the industry is making, it will be interesting to see where we are in a few years.
Thomas F. Heitman
Manager Solutions Consulting at Peak-Ryzex, Inc.