30 September 2020

Operating systems for rugged devices

The battle between Windows and Android for dominance in the warehouse appears to be coming to a close with Microsoft’s decision to end support for mobile devices that use their software by 2022.  

But will Microsoft’s “slow sunset” mean an automatic win for Android? TouchStar’s Jon Hall looks at some of the most frequently asked questions to offer an understanding of OS choice in a warehouse environment.    

If you were advising a warehouse operator on which OS offers the best support, what would you say?  

JH: At TouchStar, we have moved to Android as it’s proving to be the most nimble, flexible, and adaptable OS. We’re also seeing more applications for warehouse use are being released specifically for rugged Android devices with support focused on those deployments.  

Although we provide support, Microsoft has stopped developing Windows CE and will only provide critical updates such as security before pulling the plug in 2022.  

But Windows still remains a choice, and with the current terminals that TouchStar offers with Windows CE, we offer full support for the next three years.    

Which OS is the easiest to learn and use?  

JH: Android is the most common operating system in use today, so it’s highly likely that staff will be familiar with the OS and able to understand how to use a device with minimal training.  

According to Gartner’s most recent figures, Android is dominant globally and counted for 88% of worldwide smartphone sales in Q2 2018[1]. It’s true that iOS has more of a foothold in the UK’s consumer market, but even Kantar’s most recent figures show Android ahead of the pack with over 65% of sales[2]. In a warehouse setting I’d expect those figures to be even higher.  

At TouchStar we also make sure that the applications we create are ‘Android-style’ to give operators a familiar user experience and recognise how applications will work organically.    

What about applications? Which OS provides best compatibility?   

JH: Because we know that Windows CE is winding down, the race is on to migrate applications to Android as quickly as possible. This is a costly and time-consuming exercise; therefore, it is critical for companies to ensure that their applications are compatible with the modern OS platforms available on the market.    

Application development companies are using tools that allow them to write applications once but then deploy to both Android and iOS, meaning they have a common tool to enable development for both – which is great for applications where bring your own device (BYOD) is common such as those with a more customer facing or delivery focus. But in the warehouse sector, going forward, having applications that run on Android is paramount.    

That covers applications, but what about compatibility with other devices?     

JH: Compatibility is key. For example, we’ve launched a pair of devices – one for the forklift truck and another handheld – that offer complete compatibility and a familiar user experience. This means operators can easily switch between devices across the warehouse without needing to learn complicated new systems.    

All warehouses face unique challenges that require customisable solutions and flexibility. Which OS is best placed to deliver this?  

JH: The Android OS is highly customisable and offers a real step forward over Windows CE by allowing us to include specific features and integrate other devices that are specific to the needs of warehouse and logistics operators such as; barcode scanners, special keyboards, camera, batteries and so on.  

The flexibility of Android allows us to optimise our platform specially for the warehouse industry, whether that’s high-speed scanning, extending battery life, maximising shift times, extending Wi-Fi coverage, improving roaming and using specialised connectivity software for back office systems.    

Does OS choice affect battery usage?  

JH: Android gives us the control that enables us to optimise battery consumption. Automating the control of the device backlight to suit current lighting conditions is just one of the many ways that enables us to ensure units maintain power throughout a full shift.  

Having control over these aspects allows us to ensure that battery consumption is minimised, and no unnecessary features are draining the battery.    

In a warehouse environment it’s crucial to have reliable and stable devices. How does OS choice help?  

JH: At TouchStar we don’t rush into new OS updates as our priority is reliability and stability of the product. Once we feel that an update is working as expected, then we will move to implement that OS.  

That being said, with so many engineers around the world working on Android developments, who are continually testing and refining, the development of a stable OS is relatively swift.    

Is Android only for smartphones?      

JH: No! The good thing about Android is that it is an open source operating system without the limitations imposed on developers by Microsoft Windows CE. With Android we have all options from the full Android OS experience available to us, so we can build solutions that offer what we know the users in the warehouse sector require.    

What are the pitfalls of not moving to Android before 2022?  

JH: Users would be extremely limited in the applications they could choose. Most of the software houses that write applications will stop developing for Windows – everyone is now focusing on the future, which for anyone in the warehouse sector is Android.   In my opinion, anyone who currently uses Windows CE applications should consider moving to Android before Microsoft withdraws support completely. Technology is developing rapidly, but you will not see the benefits from new systems and processes if you’re reliant on an unsupported OS. New applications will be necessary to make the most of the latest technology, and those applications will undoubtedly be on Android.

[1] https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2018-08-28-gartner-says-huawei-secured-no-2-worldwide-smartphone-vendor-spot-surpassing-apple-in-second-quarter

[2] https://www.kantarworldpanel.com/global/smartphone-os-market-share/intro

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