Which Piece Comes First in the Complex Mobility Puzzle…The Chicken or the Egg? (i.e. The Rugged Tablet or Accessories?)

For those completely perplexed last week that I – or anyone – would advocate for picking an in-vehicle mounting system before you know which rugged tablet it will need to support...I get that this logic may seem, well, illogical. But for organizations supporting a highly mobile workforce, accessory performance (such as in-vehicle systems or workstations) can make or break the performance of their overall mobility investment. Successfully introducing a highly functioning mobility solution across multiple working locations is never as simple as picking the right rugged tablet alone.

There are many factors to consider:

How and where is the mobile computer going to be used?
In the field, vehicle, or on a cart on the warehouse or plant floor? On a forklift, bulldozer, or materials hauler? In a fire truck, ambulance, or patrol car? As a mostly mounted PC solution or a grab-and-go tool? Do you need a waterproof dock or shock-resistant mounting system?

Which accessories are going to give you the most natural usage of the mobile computer in all environments?
And do you know if these ideal accessories are even offered for the mobile computer you think is “right?” If yes, will there be a solution provider available to help you custom fit every last screw, spring, or plug-in? Because, as we all know, there’s no such thing as a “plug and play” or one-size fits all mobility solution – not even with accessories. There are standard components that provide a foundation, but

Rugged Tablet or Accessories First?

Which components are going to play a greater role in driving end-user adoption/acceptance of your mobile workflow solution?
The right-sized mobile computer that offers every desired feature without compromise? The highly secure, safety-focused/ right height/right angle in-vehicle mount for the mobile computer? Or both?

Is safety a concern? Or device security?
Does the device need to be mounted in a way that can be swiveled away from the driver, or only angled to the passenger? Does it need to be locked down somehow?

Does the device need to offer pass-thru capabilities or support specialized workflow tools when docked?
Does it need to have certain connectivity to wireless or wired networks, I/O ports, keyboards, etc. when mounted or docked?

Does the mobile computer and/or mounting system need to meet certain ergonomic standards?
You should never assume that a 5” handheld PC is best for in-vehicle use because it’s a space saver (It may not support the workflows completely or have a custom-fit mounting system available.) Nor assume that a 12” rugged tablet is too big for your available mount space. (You’d be amazed at how many more mounting design variations are available for Xplore’s larger rugged tablets vs. any other PC form factor. )

But these are just a few reasons why utility, mining, public safety, oil & gas, warehouse/distribution, and manufacturing organizations all have to give real consideration to “which comes first?” – or “which should come first? – in their solution component selection: the mobile computer or the accessories. The fact is that you can't buy one without the other. They are a system and both are equally important to the successful application of your entire mobile solution. Accessories should never be an afterthought.

Plus, field service and industrial sectors that have a high rate of mounted device usage in vehicles and/or on heavy machinery also face a greater risk of mission failure if the device fails to perform as desired because it’s inaccessible, disconnected, or unsafe to use in transit. It could be detrimental if you choose a mobile computer that’s not supported by a wide range of customizable mounting and docking options. That’s why, when you are looking at which OEMs are best equipped to meet your mobile computing needs, look closely at how well they can directly accommodate all of your exact requirements –beyond the device itself. Be wary of trying to force fit off-the-shelf accessories, or forgoing them all together.

And consider this: If an OEM only sells the mobile computer, leaving you hanging to figure the rest out after the sale is complete, are they really going to understand which mobile computer is right for you? It takes a broad range of expertise to piece the complex mobility solution puzzle together, especially in vehicles, on forklifts, etc. And it’s difficult to say which mobile PC will work best if they don’t know how the other components could or should work. That means they’ll tell you what they think you want to hear versus helping you carefully consider each mobility solution component and custom-design a highly compatible system.

Sure, every single rugged mobile computer OEM is going to refer you to their trusted third party integrators at some point, folks that are experts in your industry or perhaps in your type of fleet equipment. That's just standard practice for any company that utilizes a channel (and almost every company does). What’s not always an OEM best practice is enlisting mobility experts that take a “feet on the street” approach to deployment service and support. While most OEM’s channel partners are far removed from the sales team – or vice versa – there are some that will get down in the weeds with you to make sure that every last screw, spring, or mounting design is truly going to give you the right viewing angle, passenger protection, and usability you need. And start over with you if it doesn't. These are typically the rugged mobile computer OEMs that also design and deliver the mounting and docking systems to accompany their PC lineup as part of their in-house portfolio and have an interest in ensuring everything works perfectly together.

In other words, if the manufacturer does not actually design and offer most of the core accessories themselves, it would probably be good to look at someone who does. Otherwise you may run into an accountability issue down the road when the tablet doesn't work with the mount or dock. Someone who offers multiple pieces of the solution is always going to be more inclined to make sure that every last detail is worked out, and that all hardware, software, and accessory components sync perfectly. And they’ll understand the challenge of finding the “best” tablet for home or school use pales in comparison to the complexities of implementing a multi-faceted, fully functioning, future-proof mobility solution that will dictate key performance indicators day in and day out.

Want to learn more about shopping for your perfect mobility solution using best practices?

Listen to our recent webcast discussion with Intel’s Alan Rose and Bob Ashenbrenner, President of Durable Mobility Technologies, LLC.

Goldilocks and the Three Mobile Computers:
Which Would She Say is “Just Right” for Your Field Service Environment?
Part of Xplore’s “Rugged or Risky?” Webinar Series

View Recorded Webinar Now