Month: May 2014

Wait, How Did I Get Here Again?

When employees use hand-held cell phones while driving, whether to text message, read and respond to e-mails, make phone calls or even view GPS maps and directions,  they pose a serious danger to themselves, other motorists, and the company’s bottom line.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), on-the-job crashes cost employers more than $24,500 per crash, $150,000 per injury, and $3.6 million per fatality. These numbers are from 2011 and are likely even higher today. Distracted driving caused by hand-held mobile device use is an emerging contributor to these accidents.

Employers are often held liable in distracted driving cases because of a legal doctrine known as “vicarious liability,” which charges employers with legal responsibility if the negligent act is committed by an employee acting within the “general scope” of his or her employment.

With the “speed lockdown” feature of SOTI MobiControl, mobile devices can be automatically disabled when a vehicle reaches a predetermined speed, preventing employees from receiving phone calls, texting and accessing any applications, websites or device controls while driving. In fact, devices can be locked down as soon as a vehicle begins to move. The mobile device is unlocked and functionality is fully restored as soon as a vehicle is no longer in motion for a predetermined time.

Android Gets Rugged

A first look at the Motorola MC67 and TC55 and the Intermec CN51

In November of 2012, I sat in a meeting room in Chicago with some of the brightest minds from the leading companies in the bar code, data collection, and field mobility industries. The event was an executive summit organized by the market leader in rugged mobile computing and the purpose was largely on discussing where the future of operating systems for the traditional enterprise mobile space was headed.

At this moment in time two things were clear, Apple’s iOS products were making huge roads into businesses of all sizes and Microsoft’s legacy mobile operating systems were at a crossroads. The wild card was whether Enterprise and large mid-market companies would ever embrace Android.

Because of the closed nature of Apple’s ecosystem, the debate centered on whether the future of “our traditional devices and customers” would be better served by Microsoft or Google. As the debate raged, the room became divided into two camps. The Microsoft camp was believed that Microsoft owned the Enterprise and forthcoming version of Windows Embedded and the new Windows Phone would lead to a stable, secure mobile O.S. that would continue to be the choice of risk averse business people. The Google camp argued that the advanced user experience, the slicker, lower cost hardware options and the openness of the platform would be the preferred platform across most users, including our traditional “rugged” customers.

Same old debate, right? The interesting part was the demographics. Picking a dividing point of roughly 40 years old, the Microsoft camp was almost entirely north of 40 and the Android crowd south of 40. At that moment I knew to put my money on Android.

Now, a year and a half later, we are finally starting to see the traditional rugged mobile companies finally releasing products with Android. Intermec has released an updated version of the CN50, the CN51 and Motorola is now shipping the MC67 the same type of upgrade to the MC65. Both products have the look and feel of traditional mobile computers with the expected set of scanning, keyboard and accessory options. Both are available with Windows or Android operation system and both boast significant faster processors, more wireless connectivity options and expanded memory. Motorola also has released the TC55, its first “Touch Computer”. The TC55 is an Android phone capable of banging with the big boys and the first potentially “game changing” product in years.

MC67 and CN51

MC67
CN51

Overall, both the MC67 and CN51 offer the technological upgrades required to run Android but very little in the way of form factor or design to separate them from previous generations of rugged devices. Which one is better? Hard to tell. The MC67 is more rugged, the CN51 more ergonomic. In a bake off both have distinctive advantages and disadvantages. Per usual in the rugged world, it is all about suitability to task. The technical specifications on the CN51  and the MC67 are readily available, so I will spare you the discussion of speeds and feeds. There are a few subtle changes that deserve to be mentioned.

 

While, the MC67 is physically identical to the MC65 (you literally cannot tell the difference without turning it on) it is more durable with a better drop spec, IP rating and temperature range. Motorola added cellular voice and data capability and the device is certified on Verizon and AT&T (no Sprint) and is a separate build for each carrier. The only really interesting feature of the MC67 is the ability to run Android on the device. However, if cellular is a requirement, the Android based MC67 only supports HSPA+ (AT&T) at this time.

Intermec’s CN51 is also a “next generation” version of an older device; however, it appears more thought was put into the redesign. The CN51 is physically much different from the CN50. It is lighter and longer due to the larger 4.0 inch display. The most noticeable change is the lack of a bezel around the display making it look much sleeker than its older brother. The CN51 supports the three major U.S. cell carriers and allows switching via software in the field.

TC55

TC55
TC55

Motorola’s TC55 (spec sheet) is a totally different breed of cat. Newly designed from the ground up, it is a re-envisioning of what a rugged mobile computer can be.

The first thing you notice is that the TC55 looks like a cell phone; a pretty cool looking cell phone at that. While definitely thicker and heavier than a consumer device, it is comparable in bulk to a Galaxy phone in a Defender Series Otter Box.

While the TC55 does a good job looking like a consumer smart phone it is actually a highly rugged and feature rich device. Bar code scanning is done via a 1D linear imager or if 2D is required the 8MP camera is bundled with proprietary software to allow the TC55 to be viable in scan intensive applications. The 4.3 display is optimized for viewing in bright sunlight and works when wet or when the operator is wearing gloves. The battery is hot swappable and is optimized to provide up to 12 hours of continual use.  With a 4′ drop spec and IP67 sealing, The TC55 is reasonably rugged but for the faint of heart, Motorola provides 2 years of “Service from the Start” protection included in the purchase price. Prices vary based on configuration and quantity, but the TC55 prices out competitively when compared to an iPhone with protective case and bar code sled while providing a one piece solution.

So, of course everyone wants the TC55, right? Surprisingly, no. Over the past several months, we have shown the TC55, CN51 and more recently, the MC67 to a variety of new prospects and current customers ready to upgrade. A surprising number of companies felt more comfortable with the traditional rugged form factor, physical keyboard (especially in the Route Sales applications),  and maximum drop spec. Companies that were looking to install a mobile application for the first time chose the TC55 at a higher rate than legacy users but still had a strong predilection for the traditional form factor.

C# Comes to Smart Phones?

Recent rumors of a Microsoft investment of an acquisition of Xamarin has our development staff giddy at the thought of creating native code for IOS and Android in the familiar IDE of Visual Studio.

We actually started our R&D into developing software for iPad with Xamarin’s predecessor Mono in late 2010. At that time, the code produced by the product was painfully slow on the device and once again we decided to dive into native development with Objective C. Before we could get really ramped up on Objective C, we found Rhodes Framework and began looking at taking an HTML 5 approach to smart phone development. While we were prototyping, Motorola Solutions purchased Rhodes and re-launched the product as RhoMobile Suite and from a business perspective, Rho became the easy choice for DCT Mobile.

Our experience with Rho has been largely positive. Motorola has done a nice job continuing to enhance and stabilize the platform. With the newer, more powerful rugged mobile devices running Windows embedded, the promise of cross platform development is becoming very real. Interesting enough, we have yet to deploy on an iOS device, so we really can’t comment on the Rho experience on that platform.

Despite our significant investment in Rho, the idea of Xamarin which supports to create native code rather HTML 5, utilizing C# in the Visual Studio environment is exciting. First of all, ramp up for new developers would be much shorter and native applications are always more responsive. Still with Microsoft’s mixed success in acquiring and integrating other companies it might be wise to watch what we wish for.

Is the iPad Suffering from Shrinkage?

iPad sales are shrinking and that is big news in the world of tech pundits.

If you want more of the dirty details you can find it herehere or here if you like your news with an Apple-Centric spin. I particularly like the Apple-Centric article because it explains all of the opportunities Apple missed because they were too busy racing with Google to become the most valuable technology company in the world.

In our world the volume of iPad sales are staggering. We measure our largest customers in the hundreds and low thousands of devices. Motorola (soon to be Zebra) and Intermec (by Honeywell) measure their largest installs in the low tens of thousands. In Q2 Apple sold almost 16 ½ million iPads and sales are declining!

Still, the decline is worth noting. I purchased my first iPad within weeks of its release. I was immediately struck by the quality of its design and engineering and the truly unique user experience it provided. If only I could figure out what to do with it.

The same was true of many of our customers. They wanted to use it, but couldn’t quite figure out where it fit in the industrial and field mobility environment. Several found success, primarily in the route accounting and merchandising verticals that had a mixed install base traditional rugged handhelds and laptops. We also have seen industrial customers replace fork truck or cart mounted devices successfully with iPads. However, over the past few years we are seeing fewer and fewer customers try to make the iPad the single platform for mobile applications.

Why? I think there are a couple of reasons. Number one, the traditional rugged computing guys are finally delivering products at a price point and feature set that justify the increased initial investment cost. Also, software tools like Motorola’s Rho ElementsXamarin  and Kony are delivering robust tools and environments enabling DCT Mobile and similar companies to create Enterprise class HTML 5 applications that are finally fulfilling the promise of write once run many.

And… We’re Back!

Welcome to the most recent reboot of our Blog Site. We attack this project with fits and starts it seems.

There are a number of reasons that we have lacked consistency in producing this site. Primarily, it has been an issue of quality. We have always felt that sending out a collection of warmed over press releases, standard issue product announcements and last months news was an insult to our readers as well as a waste of our time and energy.

However, we quickly learned that producing intelligent engaging content was a difficult and resource intensive task. So when the quality wasn’t what we wanted, we quit.

So why will this time be different? First of all, we are no longer going to try and create our own content. There is a lifetime of useful, practical and thought engaging information readily available. This blog site serves as a portal directing our readers to what we believe is valuable content and sending them on their way with a few thoughts and opinions of our own.

Secondly, we have committed resources to this activity. We recently brought our marketing in house and hired our first ever Marketing Coordinator, Andrea Tadlock. More on Andrea in the future – we felt it was unfair to require her to feature herself in this so quickly!

Finally, the reboot of our newsletter corresponds with a substantial change in our operational approach. For the last several years more and more software organizations have moved toward an “agile” development approach. Like most we have dipped our toes in the water but often pulled back when the waves got too big. Our past nine months we have suited up and plunged in. We are applying these same agile principles to other areas of our business as well. So rather than hoping to dazzle you with a perfect blog site, we hope to gain your respect and loyalty as we improve each and every issue.  Please fee free to let me know your thoughts.