Conquer Mobile Device Selection

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                                                                                    Technology advancements, varying levels of
                                                                                    ruggedness, and differences in warranties
                                                                                    make mobile device selection a challenge.



                     Conquer Mobile Device Selection


                     T
                               he mobile computing options available to enter-         service, delivery, and other applications, rugged devices
                               prise users have expanded phenomenally over             (while more expensive) can provide a better TCO in cer-
                               the past several years. Today’s handheld com-           tain applications. Rugged mobile computers typically
                               puters, PDAs, smartphones, laptops, tablet com-         have a longer life cycle than consumer hardware and
                     puters, and netpads come to market with varying degrees           fewer outages. Depending on the environment in which
                     of ruggedization and a slew of new features. “All mobile          your computer will be used, rugged devices can provide
                     enterprise applications require a form of rugged mobile           improved productivity and fewer instances of required
                     computing,” says Gerald McNerney, vice president,                 replacements. They are also purpose-built for enterprise-
                     mobile computing product management at Motorola.                  class applications. “Rugged mobile computers are devel-
                     “These products are designed to withstand the rigors of           oped with benefits such as a nonglare screen, scanning
                     everyday use in tough environments, while offering func-          ability, and large buttons,” McGuriman says. “Why is this
                     tionality and usability that is applicable to an enterprise       important? The mobile worker is not in the typical work-
                     environment.”                                                     ing environment. They are outside weathering unpre-
                       That’s not to say that consumer-grade devices haven’t           dictable conditions and need a reliable computer that can
                     made an impact — new technology enhancements on the               withstand daily abuse.”
                     consumer side have fed advanced features in rugged                  There are, of course, different levels of ruggedization
                     mobile devices. Rugged computers now include full-                that may be required depending on your application. But
                     color touch screens, VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol),         for field applications, where the computer may be
                     push-to-talk functionality, faster processors, more flexible      exposed to extreme weather conditions or dirt, or risk
                     application integration, enterprise-class security, location-     being dropped, an extremely rugged, IP-rated device is
                     based features, and a modular design that has made them           often required. What’s inside is also important — most
                     easier to support and adjust as applications need to be           rugged computers run on some flavor of Windows CE
                     changed. “Organizations are looking to expand their               Mobile. While there are other mobile operating systems,
                     devices without having to purchase an entirely new sys-           some consumer-based systems aren’t really tailored for
                     tem,” says Mike McGuriman, regional vice president, east,         industrial applications, and Web surfing, for instance,
                     at Psion Teklogix. “This new way of doing business helps          could be a productivity drag. That said, it’s important to
                     with the TCO [total cost of ownership] and allows orga-           find out from the vendor when the next OS upgrade for
                     nizations to expand on their current infrastructure.”             the device will be and how it will affect the current
                                                                                       deployment. “Historically, end users have been burned by
                     Rugged Devices Reduce TCO                                         hardware vendors that issue a product end of life [EOL]
                     While some end users can be tempted to deploy con-                to force migration to an updated operating system,” says
                     sumer-grade smartphones or handheld devices in field              Harry Lerner, CEO of Janam. “Planned obsolescence has
by Brian Albright




                                  Gerald McNerney               Harry Lerner            Mike McGuriman             Garrison Gomez
                                  VP of mobile                  CEO,                               ,
                                                                                        regional VP east,          director of
                                  computing product             Janam                   Psion Teklogix             mobility systems,
                                  management,                                                                      Honeywell
                                  Motorola                                                                         Scanning and Mobility



                    14   February 2010        ●       FieldTechnologiesOnline.com
Resource Article




 become the norm in consumer technologies and is nei-          imaging capabilities are enabling field service techni-
 ther required nor appreciated in the enterprise.”             cians and delivery drivers to take photographs of dam-
                                                               aged merchandise or even delivery vehicles that get
 Test For Application Readiness,                               into accidents. But, utilizing these new features
 Dependable Connectivity                                       requires some planning before deployment. “While
 While standardized technologies have streamlined              many suppliers are providing the standard Windows
 mobile computer implementations, there are still some         Mobile API calls, very few are providing a software
 challenges. End users should carefully evaluate the matu-     development kit [SDK] that allows the customer to
 rity of their mobile application, wireless network cover-     crop, shrink, or manipulate the image on the mobile
 age, and the delivery method to upload an application on      terminal prior to sending,” Gomez says. “Given that
 the device. “Often, users who are deploying for the first     many rugged mobile computers have cellular radios
 time fail to fully assess the application readiness and are   in them, this is becoming more of an issue as most
 forced to undertake more extensive effort to get the envi-    customers are charged by data bites.”
 ronment ready,” McNerney says. “Users who are deploy-           End users with mobile deployments outside the four
 ing subsequent rollouts tend to have less disruption.”        walls also have access to higher-speed wireless networks
   Wireless connectivity, whether WLAN (wide LAN) or           for sending data. However, WWAN (wireless WAN) con-
 cellular, should be thoroughly tested where the devices       nectivity can force compromises on device size, weight,
 are going to be deployed. That’s because traditional          platform migration, and battery life. If there is no need for
 wireless radios are designed for laptop computers that        real-time field data, then a batch solution might provide
 aren’t in use while the device is being moved. “With a        some benefits in device size and cost. “Prioritization of
 mobile computer, this is not the case, since connectivity     selection criteria will shift according to application needs,
 must be maintained while moving/roaming,” says                and customers will find that products in this category are
 Garrison Gomez, director of mobility systems,                 smaller, lighter, and less expensive than those in the
 Honeywell Scanning and Mobility. “There are very few          WWAN category,” Lerner says.
 devices today that do this well. Customers should per-
 form stress tests around wireless connectivity as part of     Strong Mobile Computer
 their device selection criteria.”                             Warranties Provide Peace Of Mind
   Since the WLAN radio market is dominated by cheap,          While features and functions are important in device
 commoditized radios designed for consumer laptops, it’s       selection, users should also investigate what will hap-
 important to evaluate both the radios and the way in          pen when devices are damaged. If you sign a service
 which the mobile device manages wireless communica-           contract with the vendor, find out the average turn time
 tions. “To avoid lower quality radios and common pitfalls     for repairs and the location of the nearest repair depot.
 associated with them, companies should seek devices           “Many times you need something fixed, but manufac-
 with superior radio management utilities,” Lerner says.       turers send the device overseas to get repaired,”
 “These devices offer tremendous control of every para-        McGuriman says. “This obviously causes issues because
 meter of the radio’s performance, including key elements      turnaround time is longer, and productivity is affected.
 that affect range, roaming, and network performance.”         Having a depot near you enables quicker repair times
   Even more importantly, the ultimate end users of the        and decreases the likelihood of delays.”
 devices (be they field service technicians, route accoun-       As for warranties, simple is better. “Many vendors have
 tants, or warehouse workers) should be involved in            complex contracts that leave end users confused about
 device selection. The person in charge of purchasing the      what is and isn’t covered,” Gomez says. “Also, end users
 technology is not always aware of the needs of these          should look to see what the turnaround times will be for
 frontline employees — which can include everything            devices sent in for service, and if that level of service will
 from how the application screen is laid out, to the size of   be the same throughout the year.” Does the warranty
 the keys and the weight of the computer. “If the rugged       cover employee abuse of the device? An appropriate ser-
 mobile computer is viewed by the user as a burden, as an      vice contract should extend normal wear-and-tear repair
 unwieldy ‘brick,’ as something that gets in the way of per-   coverage to include accidental breakage or cracked plas-
 forming job functions instead of helping execute them, it     tics, broken screens, and keypads.
 could compromise the entire value proposition of the            Ultimately, with so many device options available, it’s
 technology investment,” Lerner says.                          important to match the features and functions to the
                                                               application. “The question is not which device is better
 Technology Advancements                                       than another, but instead, how can I apply the right
 Benefit Field Deployments                                     product configuration to the user that will best improve
 Mobile computers with imaging technology have been            the ability for that person to do their work and create
 used to read bar codes for several years, but new color       value,” McNerney says.                                      ●




16   February 2010    ●       FieldTechnologiesOnline.com