From The Editor | March 26, 2012

Purpose-Built Vs. Built For A Purpose: What's The Difference?


By Sarah Howland, Editor In Chief, Field Technologies magazine

In my February column, I discussed what I believe are the most overused terms in mobility. One of those terms was "purpose-built." Without specifics to explain what purpose-built really means, the term becomes just another platitude used in marketing materials. While I stand behind my point that the term purpose-built is often poorly qualified, I received some feedback from rugged handheld computing manufacturer Janam Technologies on what the term can mean with specifics to back it up.

Here's what Janam had to say: You stated, "If it wasn't built for a purpose, then why would it exist? Enough said." While this would seem to dismiss purpose-built as a differentiator, it is instead an opportunity to point out an important difference between mobile products that are purpose-built and those that are built for a purpose.

In the purchase decision-making process, there are buying criteria that set purpose-built technology apart from technology that "just exists" or was built for a purpose. For example, smartphones and tablets have a purpose, but they were not purpose-built for environments where only rugged devices will survive. Along the same lines, if an enterprise needs to support operations only within the four walls, a mobile computer with integrated GPS or WWAN [wireless wide area network] technology may get the job done, but it does not qualify as purpose-built and is therefore not likely to be the most cost-effective choice.

Used properly, purpose-built means that the product was designed to meet specific business requirements as defined by the customer and its mobile application requirements. This means unnecessary features are unnecessary. Purpose-built products provide users with the features needed to get the job done and are not overengineered or overfeatured for the sake of trends (or charging more money).

Consider this: For years, mobile computing companies have narrowed the keypad area of gun-shaped mobile devices so that the plastics can double up as a handheld brick format if the factory selects a different bottom housing during manufacturing. That is NOT purpose-built. Sure, the products were built for a purpose. The purpose, however, clearly wasn't to serve customer needs or application requirements (as genuine purpose-built technology does). It is instead to serve a purpose for the hardware vendor who gets two platforms for the price of one. For a company that delivers products that are purpose-built, the gulf separating purpose-built from built for a purpose is about a lot more than semantics.

Press Mobility Providers For Specifics
I thought Janam's feedback was important to share to illustrate the point that if a solutions provider does have the facts to back up its usage of the term purpose-built, the adjective can indeed be useful. It's your right — and duty — as a purchaser to make sure you're pressing your solutions providers for the specifics and proof behind any jargon they're using.