True mobility trend: The future of mobile computers is rugged

Telecom Lead India: We are going through a radical shift
in the way people work and use computers. Increasing availability and
affordability of wireless broadband is giving the global workforce true
mobility, for the first time in history. Many of them will use smartly designed
mobile rugged computers for their everyday computing and communication
needs, instead of traditional laptops.


“We live in interesting times”, said Robert Kennedy in
1966. I am prone to agree, although Bob and I surely refer to vastly different
developments and scenarios. I would like to suggest that we are presently going
through a real, radical shift in the way in which people work and use
computers. It is about true mobility, for the first time in history.


With increasing availability and affordability of
wireless broadband, people are no longer confined to the traditional office
environment. Soon we will all be connected, everywhere and always. Mobile
operators are expanding networks and increasing capacity to handle the
explosion of data traffic stemming from the increasing use of smartphones (that
are in reality more computers than phones).


Working from home or closer to the customers can
have several positive effects: it may make staff more content and also more
productive. It may make the organization slimmer by reducing the need for
office space. And the society as a whole may reap great environmental rewards
if this newly found true mobility leads to fewer trips by car, bus, train or
plane to and from the office.


Another strong trend that drives true mobility is the
availability of much improved so-called rugged, or ruggedized, computers. As
opposed to traditional, or commercial, computers, these computers
are specifically designed to operate reliably in harsh usage environments
and conditions, such as strong vibrations, extreme temperatures and wet or
dusty conditions.


Standard computers are simply not suitable for use in
outdoor environments. They have poor battery life and cannot withstand shock,
dust and water. They break too easily and too often, thus making the
price-benefit analysis inferior to that of rugged computers (although the
latter are more expensive to purchase). The total cost of ownership is much
lower, as much as 65 per cent lower per year, for rugged computers, mainly
because their durability minimizes or eliminates the loss of productivity that
is the result of computers breaking down.


Ordinary office workers embrace rugged devices


Traditionally, rugged computers have been used by field
workers operating in tough and -naturally mobile’ environments such as
logistics, geomatics, forestry, public transportation, construction, mining,
public safety and military. But a strong parallel trend is that even -ordinary’
office workers are now also starting to use rugged computers for a life -on the
go’ to avoid having to replace commercial laptops or handheld devices or even
smartphones so often. Many blue collar workers, like garbage collectors and
train staff, have also started using rugged computers and handheld devices to
make their work more effective and productive.


But what is a rugged computer?


There are two main standards for classifying rugged


The American military standard for equipment,
MIL-STD-810. This is a broad range of environmental conditions that include:
low pressure for altitude testing; exposure to high and low temperatures plus
temperature shock; rain; humidity, fungus, salt fog; sand and dust exposure; leakage;
shock and vibration. The standard is comprised of 24 laboratory test
methods.  Generally speaking, the more methods tested (and passed), the
more rugged the unit. So a rugged computer would on one level be classified by
how many test methods it has passed.


The IP scale. Not to be confused with Intellectual
Property or IP address, IP in this case stands for Ingress Protection and the
ratings are displayed as a 2 digit number. The first digit reflects the level
of protection against dust. The second digit reflects the level of protection
against liquids (water). So an IP67-rated unit is totally dust proof and is
capable of immersion in water for at least 30 minutes to a depth of 1 meter.


As everybody knows Apple has been hugely successful with
the iPhone and the iPad. This success has also spread into the ruggedized
market where some enterprises who traditionally would have bought rugged
devices have opted for an iPhone or iPad as their enterprise mobility hardware.
The tremendous success of Apple has more than anything taught the broad masses
that usability is important, that design matters and that the essence of
mobility lays in the size and weight (or lack thereof) in a device. The
manufacturers of rugged equipment are learning quickly and are now launching
rugged smartphones and other user-friendly and smartly designed devices.


Rugged computers have become much more sophisticated and
advanced in the last few years. They now have faster processors to offer better
and broader use, and the ability to bring desktop functionality out into the
field. Their batteries can work for eight hours on a single charge a full
work day. They may work on any choice of wireless frequency anywhere in the
world. They have high quality cameras that allows in field image capture.


Rugged is cool


Rugged mobile computers have also become much lighter and
have much better functionality overall, including better displays and improved
ergonomic design – all contributing to an improved user experience. New screen
technology provides spectacular screen clarity and brightness in any outdoor
condition, even direct sunlight.


They also look better –  it has become cool to own a
rugged computer (also because many famous athletes and adventurers use them).
Design and functionality are two strong reasons why the rugged computer segment
is growing faster than other computer segments.

Jerker Hellstrom, CEO, Handheld Group
[email protected]