I previously talked about industrial mobiles, asked where are the industrial Symbian phones and commented that open source might stimulate greater device variety.
I am pleased to see SDG’s Bluebird Pidion now supports Android. Up to now, almost all rugged wireless connected devices have been Palm or Windows Mobile-based. It’s great to see Android on a rugged device and this opens up many new markets and lucrative opportunities for mobile developers.
I have worked on a few enterprise rugged device projects. When you are supporting a very large number of (potentially thousands) devices that are going to be treated roughly, many new issues come into play. Here some things to consider if you are thinking of entering this market…
- How can the devices be synchronised on-mass?
- How can they be charged on-mass? Do they need special cradles?
- Who will repair them and provide replacement parts?
- How long into the future will replacement parts be available?
- How will they be carried by users?
- How far can they be dropped? (Colour screens are particularly fragile)
- Is the screen visible under anticipated working lighting conditions?
- What happens to the screen (physically) if workers use a pen rather than their finger?
- Is there developer support to provide access to special hardware features that aren’t part of the standard OS API?
- Is it possible to run in ‘kiosk’ mode where the OS is effectively hidden?
- Are the standard touch screen controls (e.g. buttons) usable in an industrial environment? If not, custom ones will have to be written.
- Are there any special requirements for securing data on the device?
Answering some of these questions requires a large and ongoing commitment by the hardware supplier/manufacturer. Hence, rugged devices tend to have longer sales lifetimes than normal mobile phones.