24 August 2017

The big decision: Rugged or consumer devices?

Mobile devices are all but essential in a modern warehouse environment, but choosing the right ones can be daunting. Whether you’ve only recently realised their importance or are looking to upgrade existing hardware, you’ll have no doubt considered both rugged and consumer handsets. Which option is right for you?

The truth is that both have their benefits, and it pays to understand these before making any decisions. Consumer devices – standard smartphones and tablet computers – are more capable and feature-packed than ever, but there’s a reason rugged handhelds have long been popular among warehouse managers: they can stand up to being dropped and thrown around daily.

The differences go far beyond the obvious, however. Let’s take a closer look.

The all-important life-cycle

Any sensible-thinking business owner or warehouse manager will want to get the most from their investment; that’s why most focus on life-cycles before anything else when considering new technologies.

A consumer device might be more capable but it’s likely to be bettered before long, with most manufacturers bringing out new products annually. Can you afford to keep reinvesting to have the latest devices at hand? Or to pay extra when support inevitably ends?

Rugged, warehouse-specific handsets are usually designed to last in more ways than one – due to their purpose, they tend to have well-defined life-cycles of at least two years. And even when new versions are made available, most manufacturers continue to support those using existing devices.

Applications and features

It’s crucial that your handheld devices offer the functionality your employees need, which is why you must consider applications. Consumer smartphones are known for coming with a huge range of useful apps, some of which are pre-installed and many more are available to download. That said, for every useful app, there are plenty that won’t be relevant to you. As a result, you could end up paying for and having to dedicate storage to programs you’ll never use.

Rugged devices that are built solely for use in warehouses will come with the software most relevant to their purpose. They’re optimised for the picking and packing processes, keeping things simple and efficient for your staff.

Is the tide turning?

When you consider life-cycles and the support available, it’s easy to see how the market for rugged devices has grown in recent years. That said, there’s no avoiding the fact that smartphones are more capable; more processing power, storage and applications will no doubt be appealing. And now some of these devices are being launched with tougher casing too – or at least with rugged aftermarket cases - the line between rugged and consumer is blurrier than ever.

At the other end, however, rugged devices are becoming smaller and more streamlined, while still offering a level of toughness that can’t be beaten by their consumer counterparts. Many also come equipped with the Android and Windows operating systems your staff will most likely be familiar with.

In short, the decision should come down to your own requirements. If you require something that can stand-up to colder temperatures, for example, or will be used in an environment where there’s risk of explosion, it’ll definitely need to be a specialised rugged device. If your warehouse is a little more forgiving, you could start to consider more conventional mobile handsets.

You can read more about the ongoing battle between rugged and consumer devices in our dedicated whitepaper

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