From The Editor | July 25, 2012

The Device Debate: A Common Struggle

By Sarah Howland, Editor In Chief, Field Technologies magazine

One of the steps I take as I’m planning editorial for upcoming issues of the magazine is to talk with you (our subscribers) about the topics that are most relevant, the challenges you’re having with your mobile workforce, and the types of information that are most beneficial to you. I had a conversation not too long ago with one of our readers, the field operations manager at Black Hills Energy, about the company’s desire to deploy smartphones at some point next year (right now the techs use laptops docked in the vehicles, and the goal is to have a device they can carry on-site). His struggle? Determining the right device — does it need to be rugged or doesn’t it? Many of you are facing this same struggle — you want a device that will be durable enough to withstand day-today operations, but you don’t want to pay more than necessary. It seems so simple, but like many things, striking the right balance isn’t as easy as it seems.

There’s no arguing the fact that consumer-grade smartphones and tablets are being adopted more for mobile workforces than ever before. According to ABI Research, enterprise B2E (business to employee) and B2C (business to consumer) smartphone and media tablet mobile application users will exceed 830 million by 2016. We’re seeing more iPhone, iPad, and Android device deployments in the field service industries than ever before, and many of the companies that are using those devices say they’re very happy with the choice.

Rugged Or Nonrugged, That’s The Question

On the other hand, there are companies I talk with that wouldn’t think of deploying a consumer-grade device. And I don’t mean in different industries or applications — I mean two readers in the same industry who have completely different views on this rugged vs. nonrugged debate. The prorugged users’ argument is that a consumer-grade device doesn’t stand a chance in their operating environment, and they don’t want to deal with the downtime of devices breaking. I read an interesting article the other day on the most common issues with the iPhone 4 and other popular smartphones (you can find the article here: — issues like poor battery life, Internet connection issues, and screen resolution. This site is focused on consumer feedback, but it’s fascinating to think about how these issues could factor in when these devices are used by a mobile workforce. For instance, Internet connection issues become especially painful if your mobile workforce depends on a Web-based software solution to receive and close work orders.

There’s no easy answer here. The goal of Field Technologies, though, is to provide you as much information on both sides of this debate as possible to help you make an informed decision. Last month’s cover story on the city of Redlands is an example of a police force using iPhones and iPads that are thrilled with their results. Alternately, in next month’s issue, we’re going to publish a special supplement on some of the reasons why selecting a rugged device might be better for you. If you have feedback on this topic, please email me — I’d love to hear from you!