Magazine Article | October 1, 2005

Rise Of Semi-Rugged

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Tired of mobile hardware that's either too pricey or not tough enough? Vendors are now offering a third alternative -- semi-rugged.

Integrated Solutions, October 2005
It's hardly a secret that enterprise mobility is a hot market. Within that mobility market, however, exists a space that is poised to grow faster than the rest. It's semi-rugged mobile computers and peripherals. The emergence of this space seems all at once to be obvious and yet underserved. Well, vendors are now making sure that the latter is not the case.

For years, mobile computing applications really fueled hardware devices that were at opposite ends of the durability spectrum. Enterprises could choose more expensive, rugged devices that were impervious to just about anything users could throw at them. The other choice was less-expensive, consumer-grade devices that came to be viewed as almost disposable due to their price points and lack of ruggedness.

Obviously, there was room in the market for units that were more rugged than consumer-grade devices, yet not too rugged � the Goldilocks of mobile computer devices. Based on enterprise demand for such units and market research that validates end user thinking, the semi-rugged market is now upon us. (Research firm Venture Development Corp. forecasts a higher growth rate for semi-rugged devices than rugged devices over the next few years.)

Currently, users can purchase semi-rugged enterprise handheld devices from many of the top hardware manufacturers, including Intermec, Symbol, and Psion Teklogix. Additionally, Itronix recently announced its entry into a semi-rugged laptop space that has been dominated by Panasonic. For mobile printers, users have a range of vendor options (e.g. Zebra, Printek, O'Neil, Citizen, Fujitsu).

What exactly does semi-rugged mean to users? Well, that answer has a few components. First off, it means you'll be paying less for your devices than you would expect to spend for rugged units. For example, a fully loaded rugged laptop might run upwards of $5,000, while a similar semi-rugged unit could be 20% to 25% less. It's still more than a comparable consumer-grade laptop, but at least it's in the same ballpark. But, don't forget what you're buying � semi-rugged, not consumer grade.

You'll also want to avoid the trap of thinking that semi-rugged devices can be used to replace or refresh your current rugged units. Remember, that's the same thinking that leads many enterprises to implement consumer-grade handhelds only to upgrade to rugged units. There are applications where consumer-grade mobile units work just fine. Similarly, there are applications that call for semi-rugged or fully rugged units. Users need a certain level of durability. Now, you have three options instead of two. Understanding your users is probably the best place to start. Consumer-grade devices are fine for home and office environments. Mobile environments that include working in cars, hotels, and airports will likely benefit from semi-rugged units. For outdoor and harsh environments, rugged is still the right option.

The biggest benefit of the emerging semi-rugged market is that enterprises will now be able to equip users with the mobile units that best suit them. No one can really think that iPAQs are a good idea for route accounting apps, for instance. But the price point of some rugged devices make some enterprises feel they can shove that round peg into a square hole. These enterprises will embrace the semi-rugged option over what they previously thought were two imperfect choices.