My most recent project that has been occupied the majority of my year so far has involved an iPad app geared towards field use. Quite outside the cozy realm of an office, boardroom, or living room, we have seen great success so far with iPad 2s surviving (ensconced inside a protective case, of course) daily field use in hot, dusty fields. Long term wear and tear remains to be seen, and it has been far too short of a timespan to start making TCO observations, but so far, the clients are happy with how things are working.
I take a pretty liberal view on rugged devices; I want a durable device, but I don’t expect it to be able to survive a fall onto concrete, or flying off the roof of a moving vehicle, or being submerged underwater for even a brief instant. I simply have never been able to justify the extreme costs of devices that fall into the “rugged” category, for the sake of allowing users to beat the crap out of their devices. I’d rather encourage proper ownership and treatment of a company’s electronics, rather than demonstrating to the users how you can dropkick your $2000 laptop and only manage to break your foot.
So in that vein, I keep an eye on the trade rags looking for points or counterpoints about field use and ruggedized hardware. Today, while catching up on my backlog of such rags, my eyes fell up on an article about the Rugged Tablet market. The gist is this: of the rugged vendors who are quoted, they would like to thank the iPad for legitimizing the tablet market they have been trying to capitalize on for years now, but would like it to stop being so popular so they can bring “real” tablets to the market. These guys demonstrate multiple times in the article they don’t really understand the tablet market, which explains why they floundered before the iPad, and continue to flounder now.
From the article:
A perfect example of a surprising application for the iPad is the cockpit environment. We’re puzzled how a consumer device has been authorized for use in commercial planes by the FAA. To the best of our knowledge lithium ion batteries are strictly forbidden in an airplane for safety reasons. I guess we’ll see how that works out.
That was Martin Smekal, president of TabletKiosk. As far as I can tell from 5 minutes of Googling, there are no regulations for the presence or even usage of Lithium Ion batteries in the cabin of a plane. You aren’t supposed to put them in checked baggage, nor are you supposed to ship bulk Li-Ion batteries due to their potential damage, but carrying them onto the plane and/or using them isn’t prohibited.
While I want to blame Martin solely for being ignorant and/or misinformed, I would have expected the article’s author (Sarah Howland, EIC of Field Technologies) to research such a profound claim that Li-Ion batteries (found in the majority of cell phones, as well as every iPhone, iPad, and Macbook to ever ship) were in any way prohibited by the FAA and offer Martin the chance to correct himself before the article went to press.
Regardless, that’s one example. My next favorite one:
To deliver on an enterprise-grade device requires ruggedness, a full Windows OS, Intel processing power, long life batteries, and accessories such as bar code scanners, credit card readers, and WWAN radios.
That’s Matt Miller, of MobileDemand. Matt seems to fail to grasp that the biggest pulls of the iPad are the app ecosphere, battery life, and lack of hassle, not the shiny gadgets and accessories.
And lastly, back to Martin:
Enterprise-grade devices have a product life cycle of three to five years with support far beyond that, backward and forward compatibility for accessories, business-level support, and user-replaceable batteries.
Backward and Forward compatibility for accessories…so your touch-driven tablet needs to work with your Intellimouse from 2003? Or are you asking IT departments to saddle users with a shiny new tablet that costs $1800, but they should continue to use a Serial-based barcode scanner? And Forward compatibility? Seriously? The entire device needs to be ringed with ports for I/O, on the off chance they might be used at a later date? WiFi and Bluetooth ring any bells? Self-powered devices that don’t leech the battery life of their host?
Specialized needs are specialized, and require adaption. But attempting to maintain the status quo in the name of ruggedness is just silly. Its a wonder these guys were able to create any market at all, pre-iPad.