Rugged devices at £200: reinventing the business case for mobile field force


The entry price for a ruggedised, connected data device that can be used by field force workers to undertake tasks such as car rental check-in inspections, delivering packages or inspecting motorways, should fall to under £200. The main driver will be a shift in approach, from sourcing data devices that are built to be rugged, to purchasing a standard consumer smartphone or tablet with a sufficiently toughened screen, and further protecting it by adding a rugged case.

Connected data devices – smartphones, and more recently tablets – have for many years been ubiquitous among the hundreds of millions of office users, but have had relatively low use among field force workers.

Connected devices in offices have had a fairly benign environment, protected in pockets and purses, and rarely exposed to harsher, outdoor, dusty settings: the majority of smartphones launched over the past decade would not have survived intact in harsh environments. And this is why for many years field force workers have been issued with highly rugged devices, be they walkie-talkies or PDAs used for data entry. In the latter case, resilient devices could cost over £500 per unit, and software a few hundred pounds per year.

But not all field force deployments require the same level of ruggedness: for millions of existing rugged device applications and tens of millions of potential users, ultra-rugged devices may be overkill. And standard consumer smartphones and tablets are becoming increasingly resilient.

There are three key trends at play which enable the price of devices suitable for field force usage to fall to £200 including the case.

First, Moore’s Law and exceptional economies of scale deliver a markedly improving specification for devices at each price point over time.

Second, consumer devices over the years have become increasingly robust, to cope with increasingly intensive usage patterns, and also to act as a differentiator. This has led to the incorporation of scratch-resistant screens and casings – and even cases that ‘heal’ minor scratches.

Screen resilience should continue improving, and in 2014 devices with synthetic sapphire screens, sufficient to withstand repeated knocks against concrete, are likely to reach mainstream consumer devices. A growing range of consumer smartphones and tablets are water-resistant, and able to cope with pool-side and bathroom usage. This feature, which also provides dust-proofing, makes them much more suitable for use in the field.

Third, rather than depend on physical protection for devices, enterprises are focusing more on behavioural change and identifying how workers could be encouraged to look after their devices. a device that is set up to provide both business functions and personal applications, such as consumer instant messaging, or simply taking good quality photos of family, may be more likely to get careful treatment.

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