Smartphone and tablet cases abound. We buy sleek, beautifully executed smartphones for our personal use, then cover them up with a “protective” case. Some cases offer moderate protection, although most of them have only minimal value and are selected to differentiate your phone. We tell ourselves that we’ve protected this $700 purchase from our clumsy selves, but what we’ve mostly “protected” was the profit margin of the retailer.
So, go ahead, encase your mobile device in an off-the-shelf “shell”. Just don’t make the mistake of feeling free of the consequences. Even the most “rugged” tablet and handheld cases leave your valuable device vulnerable to internal damage from drops, bumps, vibrations and extreme temperatures, among other hazards. That’s why consumer devices, including all Apple products and most Android products, are non-starters for use in field service environments. And that’s not even considering the OS limitations for mobile management, where Android and Windows offer a much richer set of capabilities than Apple. At least not in real world scenarios like this, this or this.
As discussed recently in Field Technologies Online, Apple fans are typically hard core advocates for iPads in the workplace. The problem is that there isn’t a way to justify the cost and hassle of managing the much more fragile and I/O-limiting devices in mobile business environments. In fact, no one has been able to crack the business case for non-rugged devices, period, because there isn’t a good one. Though Apple loyalists may protest that, saying that with the right protective case, an iPad can fare “well enough” in the field, the reality is that they typically fail fast for one reason or another. This isn’t a newly-realized notion either.
But I’m not here to bash Apple. Nor am I here to say that all Android devices are better than Apple options. In fact, the reality is that only certain Android devices – namely rugged tablets such as this one – will ever be viable options for on-the-job use. (Sorry but not even your IP67 smartphone makes the cut…for many reasons.) I’m just trying to emphasize, using the words of actual customers, that field service environments require rugged tablets – and for more reasons than just their ruggedness.
Let’s start with performance:
As one field-based business manager recently disclosed to Xplore: “iPads present significant limitations when it comes to memory and workflow app compatibility. There is a great deal of in-house “engineering” required to connect to scanners and other required peripherals (think testing equipment) considering iPads don’t have ports.”
Android rugged tablets, on the other hand, are undoubtedly engineered to close these consumer-grade device gaps. Need an HDMI-in port? No problem. Want expandable memory? That’s easy to find as a standard feature.
Android 1. Apple 0.
Don’t even get us started on the reliability of consumer-grade tablets…
|“I know there are fire departments, around the country that are using iPads in their vehicles. And we certainly considered doing that, until we found out that iPads had the thermal shutdown. That was probably one of my biggest disappointments, and basically made it a no go. We cannot put iPads in our apparatus, because we wouldn't be able to depend upon them.” ~ IT manager at a U.S. fire department|
When evaluated on its dependability against the critical nature of their work environment, customers say Android wins every time.
Android 2. Apple 0.
Or device management requirements:
Need an MDM/EMM platform? Remote hardware or software capabilities? Android (and Window) rugged tablets are rich with options along these lines. The beauty of choosing a device built with your business-specific needs in mind.
Android 3. Apple 0.
Then there’s the ruggedness:
|“Are you going to be “that guy” that spends $400 now on an iPad that requires a $125 service call every time it gets dropped on concrete? I’m not…”|
Yes, we all know that even the most cautious mobile devices users are going drop them, likely many times in the device’s lifetime. But here’s the catch: drop a consumer-grade device and that lifetime significantly shrinks. While the “rugged” case may minimize visible external damage, internal components will still get jolted. That means you’ll be repairing or replacing those “lower cost” devices far more frequently than expected. They just don’t fare well in seemingly hostile field environments, or in the heavy hands of manufacturing, utility, energy and construction workers.
Rugged tablets are worth every penny for this reason alone. They can get dropped, frozen, shaken, drowned and pretty much manhandled all day long without flinching. Think an iPad will survive when a truck rolls over it? Not a chance. But a rugged Android tablet will. The best Android rugged tablets also have solid state drives, like an iPad; but unlike iPads, Android rugged tablets will still retain data amidst shocks and vibrations. Inherent data and device protection? A double win.
Android 4. Apple 0.
Still not convinced that a rugged case should be ruled out?
One customer told us a few months back that their tech planner “brought us the Samsung, he brought us an Apple, he brought us some cases that were protective – somewhat. He brought us, I think it was a Motorola tablet, also, one of their more durable versions. And then we just took them all and brought them into the office. The teams would look at them and quickly say, "Nope, this isn't working.”
A second customer shared a similar experience: “Management groups started looking at Apple and we started looking at the Samsung tablets, you can buy the casing and you can buy all the protection, but they just didn't have the... I'm trying to think of the right word but it was just they weren't tough enough for our staff.”
This realization, though often met with great resistance at first, is widely shared once companies start to really consider their “criteria for success” for their mobility investments. Inherently rugged tablets – those specifically engineered and evolved over decades to align with users’ rough – but real – handling in more hands-on work environments will always outperform off-the-shelf devices in reliability. Hands down.
Android 5. Apple 0.
Plus, a “case” won’t keep your mobile workers safe in Hazardous Locations, and Apple devices aren’t C1D2/ATEX certified . That means such devices are never appropriate for manufacturing, utility and even common residential and commercial service environments where natural gas, dust or other explosive elements could be present.
Android 6. Apple 0.
Of course, I’d be remiss to overlook the reality of today’s mobile device TCO:
In a 2017 FTO Field Mobility report, respondents indicated that technology costs are a critical influencer on their device decision, noting that: “While replacement costs for consumer hardware tend to be lower, the long-term total cost of ownership (TCO) can in many cases be higher than rugged hardware because of the added cost of employee downtime.”
And it is ultimately the reliability that wins out, even more than the cost to replace broken tablets. Keeping your workers working, with no complaints about their tools is the big win here. Perhaps that’s the biggest reason why Android is gaining traction on the competition:
|“Our field technicians were using an iPad to access workflows and a laptop to measure and test speeds. The cost was not just an iPad, which is like $700, when you want the one that we wanted but the cost of the laptop as well, because it's two pieces of equipment. So, it's really easy to justify, especially when the laptops goes bad and you have to replace them. Now that I have rugged tablets as the primary device, though, I no longer have to replace devices because they’re going bad. In fact, the one rugged tablet is much less expensive than what I was paying for an iPad and a laptop together because of the reliability issue.”|
Android 7. Apple 0.
Now, we haven’t even talked about the bonus advantages that Android rugged tablets provide over Apple iPads:
- Longer battery lives
- Greater flexibility and security built into the OS
- The option for enhanced security tools, such as biometrics, encryption, SmartCard/CAC readers, etc.
- Up to 8 built-in I/O ports per device, as a standard feature (including RJ45, USB 3.0…pretty much everything Apple doesn’t offer ever)
- Two-way compatibility with your accessories, software and legacy/future operational equipment
In summary, anyone that’s still hoping that they can find a “fix” for Apple’s field service use challenges will end up spending far more than the effort’s worth. Don’t risk your ROI, or losing customers due to the downtime that will ensue when non-rugged devices start to lose their luster. Look for Android-based tablets that are designed for your environment and are proven to be dependable. In other words, take the easy way to deploy and maintain your field workforce.
Curious whether or not our TCO claims are right? Check this out:
Do Rugged Tablets Really Cost More Than Any Other Mobile PC Option?
Then run the numbers yourself: