When you’re worried about salt fog or thermal energy damaging your essential working tools, an enjoyable user experience probably isn’t at the top of the feature priority list. But today’s rugged mobile devices are looking more and more like something off the consumer tech shelves, providing intuitive user experiences and more attractive designs while maintaining the toughness that field work requires.
The Consumerization of Rugged
Rugged device manufacturer Getac recently introduced a line of devices that at a glance could be mistaken for consumer tablets. The thin, light touchscreen tablets — such as the .9-inch thick, 2.1 pound T800 — are “a real game changer in the industry,” according to Getac President Peter Molyneux. “Customers are looking for that iPad experience in rugged products,” Molyneux says.
Getac debuted its latest tablets at AirWatch Connect at Mobile World Congress in February. Getac’s Business Development Manager Richard Beaumont sat down with AirWatch TV to discuss the latest advancements in Getac rugged technology and rugged device management. (Read more below the video.)
The demand for an “iPad experience” can be partially explained by the expanding scope of rugged devices, which traditionally have been limited to fields like public safety, automotive, field service, utilities, telecoms and the military.
“But in recent years there has been a shift towards the SME [small-medium enterprise] sector as companies strive for that competitive edge. So facilities management, social housing, insurance and government sectors have been looking at rugged technology to give them added performance in the field,” Molyneux says.
Rugged devices are expected to perform in harsh outdoor and warehouse environments where even the best consumer devices can’t get the job done. “We have many customers who experience anything up to 30 percent field failure rate when using standard laptops.” Getac’s failure rate is just 3 percent.
Maintaining a low failure rate often requires customizing solutions for customers with unique needs, such as the vehicle-based computing system that allowed South East Water engineers to respond to emergency situations and keep water flowing across 9,000 miles of pipework. The project required rugged devices, a vehicle dock, installation service and a five-year service contract.
A Multi-OS Strategy
When rugged software vendors began releasing Android apps, Getac responded by building the first fully rugged tablet that runs Android. The Z710, which runs Android 4.1, allows customers to download and use apps from the Google Play store for functions such as data collection, data entry, PDF viewing and other business functions, packaged in hardware that can withstand dust, water or a six-foot drop.
The familiar Android operating system gives organizations that are new to rugged a familiar entry point, Molyneux says, and also offers benefits to developers. The Z710 has made the apps of many independent software vendors available on rugged devices for the first time. Android has been the leading OS in new sectors adopting rugged technology, Molyneux says.
Both rugged hardware and software are mirroring consumer technologies — because that’s what today’s customers expect. “No longer will users put up with using heavy and difficult-to-use devices. Everyone uses some kind of touch screen device in their personal life, so why not give this level of ergonomics to the field worker within a fully rugged device from Getac?”
Molyneux expects consumerization to benefit the rugged market as more customers demand both maximum productivity and a consumer tech experience in the field. Plus, “rugged products still offer the best total cost of ownership over a three- to five-year period.”
Though the introduction of consumer features and a consumer operating systems are major advancements in rugged technology, Molyneux and his Getac counterparts say there’s much more innovation to come. “We believe the future is in the convergence between smartphone and tablet” — much like the phablets that are popular on today’s consumer market.
Getac tablets can be tracked, managed and updated with AirWatch Mobile Device Management, so remote field workers’ devices are always accounted for and can be updated with the latest resources over the air. To learn more about managing rugged devices with AirWatch, download the brochure.