By Ron D’Ambrosio, CEO, Glacier Computer, www.glaciercomputer.com
There are three main areas that drive up the cost of rugged tablets: manufacturing volume, engineering, and configurability.
Tablet PCs are the must-have technology of this decade. Every day we receive calls from companies which have questions about rugged tablets. Inquiries are often focused on specifications, features, and pricing expectations based on consumer-grade tablets.
We repeatedly hear, ‘Our budget is under $1,000 per unit’. But why is the budget under $1,000 for a rugged version of a tablet? In reality, taking the iPad price and doubling it to cover perceived ruggedization costs is an incredible oversimplification and very unrealistic. Why? Well, there are three main areas that drive up the cost of rugged tablets — manufacturing volume, engineering, and configurability.
The Impact Of Manufacturing Volume
Identifying consumer market potential is straightforward
with buying trends and technology adoption well
researched and understood. MSRP is set by a market
leader who is only building one or two flavors of a tablet.
The known market is millions of pieces; manufacturing
costs are low and predictable. The commercial
space is very different
Field service encompasses numerous applications
from the home office to extreme environments like
oil fields, ski resorts, disaster relief, and first responders.
One solution won't fit all. The commercial market
potential is difficult to predict, and certainly less than
the consumer market. Commercial tablet acquisitions
are in the early adopter phase with many companies
still trying to determine the optimal display size for
their application. Variation in requirements keeps volumes
low and manufacturing costs high.
Engineering Makes A Difference
Engineering consumer-grade tablets is easily identified
for the average consumer who will surf the web, play
games, check email, read books, and Skype. Consumer
tablets are used in climate-controlled, carpeted environments,
and when they are dropped on concrete,
their extended service contract covers repairs outside
the standard warranty. Consumer expectations are usually
aligned with the manufacturer's design.
Commercial tablet customers want a device that runs
fast, takes abuse, and works in their environment — no
matter how harsh. So engineering for rugged tablets
starts at the component level and moves outward
through the power supply, housing, display, and docking
stations. Processors are selected for speed, heat
dissipation, and battery management. The housing
needs to withstand three- to six-foot drops to concrete.
Ingress protection against moisture and fine particles
is standard and rated to at least IP54. Working outside
requires a sunlight readable display. Adding these rugged
design features drives up manufacturing costs.
Can You Configure Your Device?
Consumer-grade tablets offer few optional features.
You may have a choice of housing color and aftermarket
peripherals. You just need the tablet to quickly
boot up to get your browser so you can check email
and maybe edit work documents that are in the cloud.
How many options are really available when purchasing
a consumer-grade tablet?
Field service professionals
work across a broad range of
applications. Some will require
data collection such as bar
code scanners, digital imaging,
RFID or signature capture,
while others need WiFi
and telecommunications, and
a vehicle docking solution.
Designing a computer to be
highly configurable adds cost.
It is tempting to compare
apples to oranges and create a
TCO (total cost of ownership) scenario that justifies the
break/fix rate that is inevitable when using consumer
tablets for commercial applications. But thinking you
can buy four iPads at $499 each before you meet the
cost of one rugged tablet for $2000 doesn't hold up.
While the argument looks good on paper, it starts to
fall apart when a device is broken causing unplanned
downtime and all the costs associated with that downtime.
Tablet PCs are a great form factor for field service
technicians. Larger display sizes, vehicle docks, and
better power management make them easy to use and
add real productivity gains. Buying smart means working
with a trusted vendor, taking the time to ask lots of
questions, doing a pilot program, and making sure you
are getting the right device for the job. Remember —
savings doesn't always come with the lowest MSRP.