In our recent Field Technologies Online webinar, it was clear that organizations are concerned about the longevity of their mobile technology investments. There’s a trend towards replacing hardware every year or two to keep pace with the rapid technology cycles in the consumer/commercial PC sector. And many organizations are realizing that “upgrading” to new mobile computer hardware every time they require new software or peripherals is timely, costly, and – quite frankly – the cause of significant productivity and budget losses. Employee or device downtime affects more than your costs; it affects your ability to meet customer expectations and, in some cases, hinders their ability to serve their customers.
So, Tom Kost and I weren’t surprised when someone asked about the best way to handle technology obsolescence knowing how fast technology changes. It’s a common question. Many IT Managers are starting to make the very valid observation that consumer devices, which are marketed for “business” use yet were never designed for today’s demanding business environments, change frequently.
It’s hard to find mobile platform stability in a tech world where frequent hardware churn is common and a complete rip-and-replace is advocated by those trying to sell consumer-OS based software. However, it is possible to avoid technology obsolescence if you choose the right platform for your foundational infrastructure from the very beginning. For example, many rugged tablets have great expansion capabilities that allow the device to remain relevant for 5-7 years despite the rapid changes in the surrounding technology landscape. For example, from a core component perspective, today’s Intel processors will exceed performance expectations for years – even though there will be “better” processors introduced into future generations of today’s PC models. Many Xplore rugged tablets are designed so that you can upgrade RAM and storage as needed, and ask a trained technician to add a barcode scanner, smartcard reader, etc. if required without replacing the entire device. In the rugged industry, we’re here to make sure you win. We know it’s not easy to anticipate how you will want or need to use your mobile computer in the future, especially considering that some technology requirements are dictated by industry regulations or still TBD standards. That’s why it’s smart to invest in both hardware and software that is expandable, backwards and forwards compatible with a variety of technology components, and highly scalable. Use these checklists to confirm that your mobile computer selection offers a future-proof feature set today:
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1. We may need to format the tablets and use our own Windows 10 Image, is this doable? Can we get the device drivers to complete the installation process to ensure that all features will work?
Yes, that is completely doable. First, let me note that all device drivers are available on the Xplore website here. If you have any issues, our support team is available to help. In fact, we actually have many customers who have their own images that need to be loaded onto the tablets, so Xplore offers several formatting and performance testing options. You can build your own image and then just use the drivers to load it yourself. Or, you can send us the image and have Xplore install it at the factory so that the shipped tablet is completely ready to go. We’ll also work with you to design and test the image before it’s loaded either way to ensure that the tablet delivers the image and works with your software perfectly.
2. This is a two-part question: (a) How often do you provide security updates and (b) how often do you provide OS upgrades for Android devices?
We don’t provide the security updates – Google does that. In fact, it’s typically the IT manager that controls when and how updates are pushed to business device users once a Windows or Android update is made available. Fortunately, much of today’s remote management software allows the updates to be pushed to devices in the field without requiring users to physically bring them back to HQ. This minimizes downtime associated with such updates when they do occur. Xplore’s customers using the XSLATE D10 tablet are using Android Lollipop. However, most customers will only complete one or two major OS upgrades over the life of the device – which, in our case is typically 3-7 years. I know many customers are debating whether or not they want to upgrade to Windows 10 – and when they’ll do that. No matter what they decide, our current rugged tablets will continued to support the older OS versions, and the systems running on those versions. We’ll continue to evaluate future Android releases to see if additional upgrades or product updates are necessitated, as well.
3. One problem we have had in the past is finding batteries 2 or 3 years into ownership, or finding that the batteries do not last as long as the original batteries did. Is this due to old stock?
Xplore stocks batteries for our tablets for many years. As proof that we’ll have the batteries for you in the future, we maintain our form factor for tablets for many years. For example, the F5 series has shipped since 2008. Batteries used in the original F5 can be used in the newest F5m model, and new batteries for the F5m can be used in the original F5. The same is true for our other lines, such as the X6C and the B10 series. When you commit to keeping a form factor for a long time, as Xplore does, you create investment protection since the docks, batteries, battery chargers, carrying cases, etc. can be re-used.
As far as replacement batteries not lasting as long, this is not something you’ll experience with Xplore-brand replacement batteries. We stock batteries made to the same exacting specs as the ones that shipped with the tablet. In contrast, many replacement batteries for consumer devices are knock-offs, with similar markings but inferior cells inside. I fell for this myself with my top-tier smartphone. I bought it new from one of the top four cellular companies, yet the battery failed within a year. When I opened it up, I found that it had been replaced with a knock-off battery in the store before I walked out with my “new” phone. The markings were very similar, but upon closer inspection I could tell it was a knock-off. The cellular carrier replaced my battery with a name-brand immediately when I returned it.
4. Our workers float from Wi-Fi to Cellular connectivity frequently. How can we do this seamlessly, without losing an application or login?
This is actually a pretty common scenario for many field service workers, as well as law enforcement and other mobile workers. You don’t want to lose connection when moving from one network to another, or have to re-sign in to the network or VPN.
There are many software solution providers who address this issue. Net Motion is one of our partners, and they have had a comprehensive solution for this for many years. There are other providers out there which are focused on delivering connectivity as mobile devices move across networks.
In addition, most rugged tablets today will feature built-in Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G LTE (and 4G XLTE through Verizon), satellite radio, and Bluetooth 4.0 communications technologies. That provides the widest coverage possible without requiring significant peripheral investments to bridge between networks. And Xplore will be there when new networks roll out, like FirstNet or 5G.
5. How frequently do you change your devices and how do you enable customers to suggest improvements?
Xplore built its first rugged tablet in 1996 and has designed and delivered only rugged tablets ever since. Our goal is to maintain long life cycles for all of our products. We typically plan on a life of at least 5 years when we first launch any product, but we have kept form factors running much longer than that. In fact, we have rugged tablet models – such as the XC6 – where the exterior chassis/exterior form factor hasn’t changed in 10 years even though it’s on its fifth motherboard. Of course, we’ve upgraded components on the inside because technology keeps moving forward and in time you do need – and want – better displays, new processors, new I/O capabilities, etc.
At Xplore, we introduce a brand new platform about once every 3 or 4 years. We do this when a customer-required feature necessitates a new tablet form factor, most commonly driven by screen size. Our R12 introduced a 12” screen, for example. Obviously the R12 wouldn’t fit into a 10” tablet dock or carrying case, so when we talk about peripheral compatibility, we’re talking about multiple generations of products within the same model class/screen size. But when we do introduce a new tablet (due to new size requests), we do not replace or obsolete an older tablet. When the R12 was introduced 4 years ago, we were shipping the F5 series (tablet with built-in handle), the Bobcat form factor, and the X6C form factor. ALL of them are still shipping, and the current F5m tablet still works with the original F5 tablet’s accessories from several years ago. If you are considering an Xplore tablet, just ask your sales rep about how much longer we plan to ship that line.
Xplore’s core principle is that we are one of the most customer focused companies. We continually solicit feedback from our customers. All of the products we build have unique features that were suggested by customers.
We understand the larger implications of your mobility investment, whether you’re buying 10 devices or 1,000 units. That’s why, starting with the very first Xplore rugged tablet in 1996, we have worked directly with customers to design platforms for their unique needs. We want customers to suggest improvements not only for future products, but on how we can customize solutions today to deliver the performance they demand. When a customer has a need that’s not serviced by our existing product portfolio, we want to sit down with customers and truly understand how we can come up with a solution that makes good business sense for everybody.
In fact, we’ve created a strong partner network that helps us architect complete mobility solutions and provide supplemental support to customers. Whether it’s direct with Xplore or through a valued partner, we give customers a single point of accountability across the enterprise. We commit the necessary resources to see each customer project through from start to finish – and beyond – and we don’t stop working with you once the sale is closed. Fortunately, we’re large enough and yet nimble enough to help you solve complex problems quickly. And we empower our sales and support staff to make decisions and take action that will be in your best interest without having to work through the red tape found in competitors’’ organizations.
If any customer (or non-customer even) has feedback or suggestions, please contact your sales representative and we’ll arrange a meeting to gather your feedback.