Rugged Landscape Transformation
For over 15 years, Microsoft provided an industry-wide standard for operating systems on rugged mobile handhelds, so when upgrading hardware, it was only about the device. But the trend of consumerization, starting with the iPhone and iPad, and accelerating with the explosive growth of Android, has complete changed everything. There are now four incompatible operating systems vying for control of the rugged handheld market which introduces immense challenges and significant uncertainty for enterprises, ISVs, and OEMs alike.
“There are now four incompatible operating systems vying for control of the rugged handheld market”
Shift to Consumer Mobile OSes
In today’s environment, all of the modern platforms competing for market share in the rugged mobile space are based on those developed for use by consumer smartphones, including Apple iOS, Google Android, and Microsoft Windows Phone. Even Microsoft’s Windows Embedded Handheld is a forked subset/superset of Windows Phone, which means wherever the consumer platform goes, so does the OS used by rugged deployments in the enterprise.
“Modern rugged platforms are based on those developed for consumer smartphones”
“Microsoft has broken software backwards compatibility”
Broken Backwards Compatibility
When the rugged world was standardized on Windows, moving from Windows CE 4.2 to 5.0 or Windows Mobile 6.1 to 6.5 was straightforward. But now with Windows Embedded 8 Handheld, Microsoft has broken software backwards compatibility. They moved from a Windows CE-based kernel to the core that powers Windows 8. While it may be a good long-term move, the short-term effect is that existing Windows Mobile apps need to be completely rewritten to move to Microsoft’s next-gen mobile operating system. Additionally, since competing platforms like iOS from Apple (based on Unix) and Android from Google (based on Linux) are also incompatible platforms, organizations with significant investments in their rugged line-of-business apps have many tough decisions to make, whether sticking with Microsoft, moving to a new OS entirely like iOS or Android, or simply not entirely sure what the future might hold.
Increased UX Expectations
One of the impacts of consumerization is a shift in worker expectations. Now that there is an app for just about anything, your workers will not only expect mobile apps that enable them to do their jobs more effectively, but they also have much higher standards when it comes to user experience. It used to be that enterprise software could get away with a poor UX, but not anymore. This challenge is often compounded when marketing gives your customers mobile apps that have a better experience than what is provided to your employees.
“It used to be that enterprise software could get away with a poor UX, but not anymore”
Accelerating Rate of Change
Another side-effect of the transition from a purpose-built embedded operating system to consumer-based mobile operating systems is an accelerating rate of change, combined with the fact that modern mobile OSes from Apple, Google, and Microsoft are being developed and maintained with a mindset of a hardware obsolescence cycle of 18 to 24 months, not the 5 to 8 year lifespan that most rugged handhelds are often used in production. This has very significant implications from security and reliability to the practicality of real-world support and app maintenance.
Managing Total Cost of Ownership
When it comes to rugged mobility in the enterprise, it’s not about the initial cost of the hardware or software – it’s about the total cost of ownership, including all of the costs that add up over time. That’s the reason why for many use cases, it’s worthwhile to pay 3x or 4x for ruggedized devices vs. their consumer grade counterparts, as the true cost isn’t just the hardware replacement, but also the lost productivity for a worker that cannot do their job without a device. The same is true for software and the mobile apps used on the devices. It’s not just about the cost of developing or licensing the app, but supporting and maintaining it over the long-term, including managing any transitions between operating systems or hardware. With the accelerating rate of change in mobile platforms, the long-term costs of supporting that software is only continuing to grow.