Rugged Tablets Not I Pad

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Rugged Tablets Not I Pad

  1. 1. NOT FOR REPRINT © JAMESON PUBLISHING Resource Article Experts discuss the intersection of the in-demand tablet form factor and the ruggedness necessary for field applications. Rugged Tablet PCs: Marrying Popularity With Strength I f you named one technology product most coveted 50% growth rates for tablets in a number of industries.” today by both business and consumer users alike, it Mark Holleran, president of Xplore Technologies, is would probably be the Apple iPad. Nearly 15 million another believer in strong tablet usage. “We see a shift in were sold last year after its introduction. Upwards of platform selection from traditional rugged notebooks to 500,000 additional units went out the door within days of tablets. Tablets are more user-friendly and can be built the March 11, 2011, introduction of the iPad2. Besides stronger, more rugged than a notebook.” Research firm the huge success of the iPad, smartphones, led by the Gartner predicts that tablet sales in 2011 will be about 55 Apple iPhone, are also helping spur tablet growth. million, nearly triple 2010’s sales. Smartphones have made users more comfortable with touch screen input, which has lowered end user resis- Why A Tablet? tance to tablets. Why choose a tablet PC versus a laptop or handheld While tablet PCs are white-hot, let’s not forget they have device? Many users believe tablets are more convenient been around for years, and field service workers have and easier to navigate. “The tablet PC form factor enables been carrying them around just as long. But Apple didn’t point-of-service computing, where critical information build the iPad for heavy-duty fieldwork, which is why can be input or output of the computer while the user rugged tablet PCs have their place in certain situations. stands face-to-face with a patient or walks a site with a cus- Defining a “rugged tablet PC” is a challenge, as there is tomer during an inspection,” says Stinson. “Laptops, no universally accepted definition. According to Robert while certainly portable, require the user to find a place Fowler, ARMOR sales manager at DRS Technologies, to sit down or a surface on which to place the laptop. This “Rugged tablets are designed to keep out water and dust, interrupts workflows and isn’t accommodating to highly blunt the effects of high and low temperatures, and pro- mobile environments.” With the growing popularity of tect against the harmful effects of shock and vibration — tablets, touch interface has also become an attractive char- conditions that field service, utilities, transportation, and acteristic. “Tablets are also more compact than laptops, energy workers experience every day.” easier to mount, and easier to interact with via touch or We are now living in the “Year of the Tablet,” at least if pen rather than keyboard,” notes Holleran. your universe revolves around technology. Industry There are certain information formats that just work bet- observers are predicting strong sales for tablets. “We ter with the portability of tablets. “For example, tablets believe tablets will be gaining market share as users and provide convenient ways to display a diagram or schemat- companies realize the significant productivity benefits ic on-site, rather than ‘in the truck,’” comments Doug that come from these devices,” says Mike Stinson, VP of Brown, director of business development at LXE. Other marketing for Motion Computing. “The growth rates will uses include providing the ability to order parts from a vary by vertical market, but analysts are forecasting above diagram (rather than from a list), documenting damageby Alan Horowitz Robert Fowler Mike Stinson Mark Holleran Doug Brown ARMOR sales mgr., VP of marketing, president, dir. of business development, DRS Technologies Motion Computing Xplore Technologies LXE 14 May 2011 ● FieldTechnologiesOnline.com
  2. 2. NOT FOR REPRINT © JAMESON PUBLISHING Resource Articleby insurance claim adjusters, and tracking and recording Holleran. “Then deploy a pilot that tests the device with ainformation used by various types of inspectors. small group before instituting a full rollout.” The average screen size of tablets is another draw.“Three screens of data on a tablet or field computer might What About The iPad?translate into 12 screens a user would need to view on a One cannot ignore the proverbial 800-pound gorilla inPDA,” says Brown. Unlike some smaller devices, most the room — the Apple iPad. Does it have a role in thetablets allow a user to run a full-fledged version of their field? Yes, but in limited situations. “Third-party vendorsapplication. “A tablet’s large display and standard aspect are making rugged coverings for the iPad, which helpratio allow applications to be made portable without protect the case and display from small drops, but do notrewriting them,” observes Fowler. This means the full protect the inside components from the damaging effectsrange of features and functionality of the application are of drops and vibration over time,” warns Fowler.made mobile, and less IT time and effort is required for Many believe the iPad to be more suitable for white-col-deployment since there’s no rewriting of the application. lar-type use. “The iPad is suitable for Internet and email Common applications for rugged tablet PCs include on access, but in general lacks the computing power to runforklifts, for inventory management, and dispatch/ticket- major back office applications,” notes Holleran. Browning systems. The military commonly uses them for vehicle draws attention to a TV commercial for the Kindle,monitoring and maintenance, mapping, and troop Amazon.com’s e-reader, which shows a Kindle user read-deployment. Utilities find rugged tablets useful for pole ing by a pool while an iPad user on an adjacent chairand line inspection, mobile data collection, asset tracking, struggles to read his tablet because of the sunlight. “Thatdispatch, and customer maintenance. “A rugged tablet is commercial highlights one of the iPad’s key limitations —practical in conditions where data protection is critical, a lack of outdoor viewability,” notes Brown. “The other isbecause it can withstand extreme temperatures, shock, lack of ruggedness and the iPad’s inability to withstandvibration, dust, and other conditions that can compro- abuse.” So, while the iPad is popular, it isn’t purpose-builtmise data integrity,” says Fowler. for field service-type applications. “Tablets like the iPad are ideal for users that want to access information [theWhat To Consider When Internet, videos, photos, etc.] at home, in the office, orBuying A Rugged Tablet while traveling,” Stinson observes.As with any piece of technology, choosing a rugged tablet If you decide to deploy iPads for a field service appli-involves factoring in numerous variables. “Let the work- cation, be sure to have a plan for the mobile workerflow and business processes help determine the technol- whose iPad does happen to fail in the field. A drive backogy, not the other way around,” recommends Brown. to the office is a significant time waster. Pencil and“Map ‘a day in the life’ of your field worker and then con- paper may be the fallback position, but it requires aduct an objective, detailed analysis to see where ineffi- time investment in data entry at the end of the day. Oneciencies exist that can be minimized with different tech- or two such incidents could financially justify a ruggednology.” From this, you will see recurring themes. For tablet purchase.example, if your workers often access large graphic filesat several stages of the process, a tablet may be beneficial. The Future Of Tablet PCs Also consider the environment in which the tablet will Demand for tablets is strong. This demand will drivebe used — including user workflows, software already rapid development of both consumer-focused andinstalled, and your IT infrastructure — to ensure a seam- rugged device form factors. Observers predict tablets willless fit into your business environment. “The right tablet lose weight, improve their readability in sunlight, supportdeployment can show significant operational benefits, multitouch and gesturing navigation, have longer batteryincluding improved revenue per transaction, increased life, and sport enlarged memory capacity.productivity, and efficiency — but business integration is Rugged tablets will have new features such as built-incritical for these benefits to be recognized,” says Stinson. GPS, cameras, and integrated peripherals like bar code While the needs of your field force are very important, scanners and magnetic stripe readers. Look for multi-you can’t focus entirely on the field force’s needs — IT has ple radios that allow the user to connect anywhere atto be on board. “Your IT department needs to know how the most efficient cost and even a biometric mouse.to work with the tablet, what it takes to reload when Even if you think the iPad’s capabilities are too lim-something goes wrong, and how to protect against virus- ited and the device too fragile, ignore its popularityes,” says Fowler. “And, because mobile employees are not at your peril. Apple has shown there is a strongoften in the office, remote management capability is criti- demand for the device, and users are finding its sizecal.” One more important piece of advice — don’t forget appealing and practical. The rugged tablet PC is ato thoroughly test your chosen solution. “Detail your way to take the tablet’s strengths and translate themproduct requirements, your must-haves, and nice-to- into a device capable of functioning well in varioushaves, and turn these into specifications,” recommends industrial environments. ● FieldTechnologiesOnline.com ● May 2011 15

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