Years ago selecting a mobile device was pretty straight forward: A laptop or tablet, often a ruggedized or even intrinsically safe one, running a Windows32 operating system, or handheld device running a version of Windows Mobile. These devices, intended for professional use are quite expensive, but at the same time offer add-ons such as barcode scanner and RFID readers. Many specialized variations, especially in the handheld space, were and still are available designed and build for certain roles in mind, e.g. for employees in warehouse operations or maintenance technicians working in hazardous locations such as mines or oil refineries.
With the introduction of the iPhone and other smartphones primarily based on the Android operating system the landscape shifted dramatically towards a consumer driven device development cycle. Only since this year certain manufacturers are starting to offer Android based ruggedized devices – tablets and handheld ones. For true i-safe devices Windows Mobile still rules. Apple with the iPhone, iPad and just recently the iPad mini offers a selection for different screen sizes and a price point and user experience that is very attractive, however, trying to buy a class 1 / division 2 iPad is more than a challenge. That doesn’t mean that technicians can’t use consumer grade tablets running on iOS, Android or Windows 8. Companies need to look at use cases and work environments – protecting consumer grade smart phones and tables with appropriate casing maybe sufficient for many roles. Even if these devices break more often it is probably more economically replacing them than buying true ruggedized devices.
A key point with the wave of device choices appearing on the market is the user experience for the technician utilizing tables and phones to e.g. manage work orders and perform operator rounds: The screen layout and workflow need to be independent of the device itself. Today this can be accomplished even without re-writing the same mobile app for each device. This leaves companies in asset intensive industries just with the task to select the right device with the right size, hardware characteristics and accessories needed for the technician. Choices are numerous today and will become more abundant.