Take Your Own Device?
Is the continued domination of handheld devices threatening the market for rugged PC manufacturers, or will the tables turn for consumers? Per Holmberg, CEO of JLT Mobile Computers investigates
As technology becomes cheaper it invariably becomes a commodity for most people. Another aspect of the prevalence of affordable technology is its application to areas where, before, it may never have been considered. This is very much the case with ruggedised PCs; their unique combination of a familiar and largely accessible platform, coupled with a design intended to endure harsh environments means more industries can enjoy the benefits the classic PC has brought to society and commerce.
However, adopting a rugged PC is more than just replacing a desktop computer with a PC in rubber casing. Typically, these devices need to offer many years of problem-free service, while exposed to vibration, shock, temperature changes and other extremely challenging environmental conditions. Restarting a computer that controls an industrial crane simply isn’t an option.
The continued automation of industry means this kind of scenario is becoming increasingly common and a big part of meeting this demand is managing expectation. Something with the initials ‘PC’ may instantly conjure up an image of a standard laptop, but consumer devices are not designed for, and would not stand up to, the kind of environment ruggedised PCs operate in.
As commercial technology is so accessible there is a level of expectation around operability. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is quickly gaining in popularity. The prospect of using a consumer device in an industrialised domain would send shivers down any IT manager’s back; even if the software were to be ported across, or an app developed to provide the same functionality, there simply isn’t the level of security required.
Down-time in the kind of applications where rugged PCs are deployed is simply unacceptable; the cost of lost productivity would outweigh any potential benefits in using a consumer device and for this reason the idea of BYOD is not applicable in the market for rugged PCs – at least at the high end, where we operate – and is unlikely to ever be entertained by our customers.
Having said that, the expectation for consumer-like features and user interfaces is increasingly real; touch screens, performance and mobility are becoming just as desirable in the high-end rugged arena as they are in the latest consumer device. Fortunately, adapting this kind of functionality for the rugged PC market isn’t proving to be impossible: difficult, yes, but not impossible. Our design teams have worked extensively to bring the same level of dependability we deliver in our regular rugged PCs to a new range of mobile PCs that offer projected capacitive touch-sensing, CPU performance and memory size, all to give the same feel and user interface consumers enjoy at home. We have also pioneered a new docking solution that allows the device to be easily removed from its vehicle for theft protection and interchangeability.
There is no question that some areas of automation are open to consumer devices; using low-cost technology such as a smart phone or tablet for field workers is definitely happening, however there are also a growing number of customers, especially in applications such as logistics, port technology or mining, who understand the value in a device that offers reliability, dependability and durability. In economic terms, the opportunity cost of adopting consumer devices is simply too high to bear in most instances. Of course, manufacturers of consumer devices understand this – their business model wouldn’t allow them to develop features needed by our part of the market.
Generally speaking, the demand for rugged PCs is going to continue to increase, uninfluenced by the commoditised consumer market because, ultimately, they are and will remain two very different sectors. At the same time, technology and innovation spun out of the consumer market will have an impact on the development of rugged PCs.
Per Holmberg (pictured) is CEO of JLT Mobile Computers. The company is celebrating its 20th anniversary – an occasion marked by the delivery of its 90,000th computer to Baltic Container Terminal (BCT) Gdynia, part of the international port management group ICTSI.
Image: Touch-screen technology has fundamentally changed the way we interact with technology