When it comes to mobile computers, one size definitely does not fit all. Trends toward purpose-driven device development mean that today’s technology decision-makers have a wide range of strong options from which to choose. And contenders in this highly competitive field will all tout their mobile device feature sets’ ability to best meet enterprise-specific needs.
When you’re ready to invest in new mobile computing devices, use this guide as a handy resource to help you cut through the jargon and narrow down your options. The points we’ve compiled will help ensure that you ask the right questions and are fully prepared to make an informed mobile device selection.
MOBILE DEVICE FEATURES OVERVIEW
As you start to look at different mobile devices, it’s helpful to view the messaging about feature sets and specifications through the filter of your particular needs. Here, we offer a look at some key feature considerations. While not an exhaustive list, this overview of mobile computing device characteristics covers the important basics.
Mobile device manufacturers often talk about a device’s ruggedness in terms of about IP (Ingress Protection) Codes or ratings. IP Codes are an international standard for rating how well an electronic device’s casing is sealed against intrusion from foreign objects, and are expressed with the letters IP, typically followed by two digits — IP67, for example. The first digit (0 through 6) represents protection against solids (i.e., fingers, dust, tools), while the second digit (0 through 9K) represents protection against liquids. You can look up the specific meanings of each combination of digits, but, generally speaking, the higher the number, the greater the protection.
You’ll also want to look for certified metrics on tumble and drop ratings, cold and heat tolerance, and vibration tolerance, so you can make direct comparisons among devices. Obviously, you’ll get better performance from devices that are designed to withstand the specific rigors of your environment.
⇨ RUGGEDNESS should be a key feature set to consider if the environment in which your mobile devices are used includes exposure to varying extremes in dust, moisture, temperature, or vibration, or if your devices are likely to be dropped onto concrete.
Data Capture Functionality
Realistically assess your data capture needs. For use cases involving intensive barcode scanning, companies put themselves at a disadvantage when they rely on a device-camera-and-scan-app combination that simply cannot touch the speed, accuracy, and reliability of the dedicated scan engine performance available with some mobile computers.
As well, some devices are capable of decoding more types of symbologies than others (even capturing check or driver’s license data, for example), so look for ones with scan engines that match or supplement your needs. If possible, request demo units so you can test scan-range distances and performance speeds for yourself.
If your operations already involve or anticipate incorporating RFID, consider multipurpose models that offer this option or are compatible for use with RFID-enabled sleds. In a related but separate protocol, many mobile devices now being marketed include NFC capability, which should give you at least some limited peer-to-peer data sharing capabilities.
If documenting compliance or asset conditions are key activities, you’ll also want to focus on devices with high-resolution cameras for document scanning, taking video, and more.
⇨ DATA CAPTURE FUNCTIONALITY should be a key feature set to consider if your mobile device needs involve significant scanning activity, unusual or multiple types of symbologies, or a requirement for high-resolution documentation.
Size and shape are important — so weigh your options. Some enterprise-ready devices have a similar look and feel to consumer devices, making them more intuitive for workers to handle, or more appealing for use in consumer-facing environments. But while smaller, consumer-style devices are more easily portable, smaller screen sizes may make graphics-heavy applications difficult to read, slowing workers down as they input or read data under different conditions. Consider also the ergonomic impact of each unit’s design on scanning and viewing angles, and ask about wearable accessory options that can further enhance productivity for applications like picking and packing.
⇨ FORM FACTOR should be a key feature set to consider if how the device looks or feels influences how effectively the user is able to do his or her job.
The material of a device’s screen carries implications for durability and readability. If ruggedness is your top concern, polycarbonate screens offer a high degree of shatter protection. If readability is more critical, however, the otherwise more fragile glass screens offer superior scratch-resistance. If bright sunlight is a consideration, be sure to understand devices’ nits ratings. (Nits are units for measuring luminescence, or the intensity of visible light.) If employees frequently encounter low-light conditions, backlit screens are critical. And if employees’ hands are frequently gloved or wet, look for newer, dual mode capacitive touchscreen technology.
⇨ SCREEN FEATURES should be a key feature set to consider if environmental conditions in which the devices will be used vary widely.
Particularly now, with the Windows Mobile operating system reaching end of life by 2020, enterprise OS discussions have focused significant attention on Android-based devices as the go-to replacement of choice. With valid concerns around the volume of malware attacks and questionable data security on consumer Android devices, however, it’s essential to evaluate strategies for addressing these issues.
One path is to engage the services of a mobile device management (MDM) provider to lock down your devices and close the known security vulnerabilities as much as possible. Another option is to limit your search to manufacturers whose devices are built on a more natively secure, proprietary/enterprise-specific version of the Android OS.
Regardless, when introducing a new OS into your technology ecosystem, you’ll also need to consider the impact of integrating these new devices into your existing population of devices, and whether or not you’ll need to update or rewrite any critical software applications.
⇨ OPERATING SYSTEM should be a key feature to consider if the devices you currently use are primarily based on the Windows Mobile OS, or if you are looking to explore enhanced data security options.
Identifying devices with the best processing power or “clock speed,” as it is sometimes referred to, used to be a straightforward matter of looking for the option boasting the highest gigahertz processor. But with dual, quad, hexa, and even octa core processors available, devices are able to split demanding processes across multiple cores, resulting in lower CPU energy usage and increased performance speeds. Suffice it to say, you’ll want to be sure you’re comparing apples to apples when looking at device processing power options.
⇨ PROCESSING PERFORMANCE should be a key feature to consider if your users require access to particularly demanding applications, or have graphics-heavy or video-intensive needs.
Because the number of Internet-connected devices is growing at an exponential pace, wireless connectivity takes on increased importance in determining a device’s potential lifecycle value. [Gartner predicts 20.8 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020, as compared with around 6.4 billion in 2016.] And while carriers are already excitedly chatting up the game-changing capabilities of 5G, the reality is that 5G isn’t expected to be widely, meaningfully available until 2020. So yes, faster connectivity speeds with lower latency are coming. In the meantime, devices built on 4G LTE standards for wireless WAN and 802.11ac standards for LAN should keep your employees efficiently accessing and sharing data significantly longer than devices built on previous wireless protocols. Other general wireless connectivity features to note include GPS, security encryption standards, and Bluetooth capabilities.
⇨ CONNECTIVITY should be a key feature set to consider if your workforce needs to quickly download and share data, regardless of location.
Consider not just how long a single charge will last, but also how quickly the battery can be recharged. Many rugged devices feature hot-swappable batteries that allow users to change batteries without losing data. Additionally, some devices offer smart battery management, with metrics (based on real-time available charge and use patterns) for remotely monitoring battery life, making it easy to identify and replace aging batteries that no longer hold a full charge.
⇨ BATTERY POWER should be a key feature set to consider if your current devices are unable to keep a charge for a full shift or if battery options are compromising productivity.
When you’re ready to take the next step and talk to experienced, knowledgeable professionals about your specific mobile device needs, contact us. We will help you understand your options and ensure that you get the devices you need.