Rugged Mobile Devices v. Consumer Electronics

Recently, PC world released an article describing an in house iPad stress test they conducted. This inspired me to write this post on the importance of researching IP Ratings and Drop Tests in relation to enterprise mobility solutions such as tablet computing. For the majority of our customers in the manufacturing, fabrication, construction, field service and logistics industries, ruggedness is a must.

Consumer electronic have their time and place

Consumer electronics include your cell phone, iPad, laptop, MP3 Player and other trendy devices off the shelf from Best Buy. They are designed to last an average of 2 years in a fairly controlled environment. Most can only be dropped a few times – as long as it’s not from too high and the angle of impact is “just so”. They are not waterproof or even very water resistant, and it is expected that you will be careful transporting them, which may be why companies like Otter Box  are making such head way. Essentially, consumer electronics are designed to be affordable, lightweight, user-friendly and short lived, which makes them more readily available and desirable to the majority of middle class consumers.

Enterprise and industrial mobile devices are the clear choice for businesses

An industrial environment such as a warehouse, fishing dock, construction site, lumber yard, or retail environment place high demands on mobile technology. In order to withstand the use and abuse of such environments, mobile devices must be much more rugged than consumer device. Additionally, due to the expense, rugged mobile computers must be designed to last more then a few years.

3 factors to consider when selecting a rugged mobile computer:

1. IP Rating

A devices IP (Ingress Protection) rating indicates how well protected it is against dust, dirt and water. Here are typical ratings:

  • Consumer electronics such as your iPhone, iPad and Laptop have an IP rating of IP42 which means they resist “solid objects 1mm or larger” (make sure your dirt particles are fairly large) and splashing water.
  • Typical mobile handheld computers designed for light industrial use have and IP rating of IP54 which means they are protected from dust and splashing water.
  • Ruggedized mobile handheld computer designed for extreme industrial environments have an IP rating of IP65 which means they are sealed against dust and protected against “jets” of water (a.k.a. you can hose it down).

2. Drop Ratings

Device drop ratings indicate how many times a device can be dropped and from what height before experiencing performance trouble.

  • The typical mobile handled computer can withstand multiple drops from 4-6 feet onto concrete. We’ve had some customers literally run over the mobile computer with a forklift, then pick it up and use it successfully!
  • Conversely, according to the PC World, the iPad experienced performance trouble after just a few drops from lap height to the carpet and don’t even try to splash your coffee on it.

The Honeywell 6100 & 6500 Mobile Computers are rated IP54. Intermec’s CN3 is also IP54. The Psion Workabout Pro3 is IP rated IP65. All are rated for multiple drops to concrete – they will keep working!

3. Downward Compatibility

Downward compatibility means that as new devices are released, the replacement model remains compatible the past software applications.

The Bottom Line

If you want your mobile workforce to be productive, make sure the equipment you provide them is appropriate for the environment. Trust me when I say that the investment is worth it. You’ll get higher productivity and at least 5+ years’ of use with a quality industrial mobile computer or enterprise tablet.