Most of the time it’s a pleasure to engage with clients that are increasingly becoming technically savvy. I add the caveat though because there are two areas where it’s a nightmare. The first situation is where clients believe that because their iPhone or Android device can interpret a barcode using the built-in camera or save a rudimentary signature as a jpg that it will able to perform adequately as the device of choice for their field workers. My second rant is about HTML5 – I’m building a head of steam for this one, and since I’ve already vented a little on this topic – I’m saving it for next week.
Before I go any further I must also openly disclose that I love my iPhone 4. It is hands down the best consumer device I own, try and pry it from my cold dead hands! (I also own a Windows Phone – Mango but the dalliance is in it’s early days).
So why can’t you use your consumer grade cell phone for field service? Well it’s like saying “My Ferrari has four wheels, a steering wheel and a loads of horsepower so I’m going to enter it into the World Rally Championships!” Yeah right! It will need a service after 500m on the dirt and will spectacularly throw a piston when the oil sloshes to the left in the first hard right turn. If I had been able to say yes for each time I’ve heard “So I can run this on my iPhone?” I’d be rubbing shoulders with Richard Branson on Necker Island.
Now you could argue that clearly this is what the market wants; and you would be right. The street is always going to be enticed by the new cool “kids on the block” but in the world of field service; they aren’t going to cut it for the following reasons: performance, functionality and cost.
Rugged devices offer the following advantages over consumer devices:
Device ROI: drop your iPhone or Droid once on a cement floor and it’s toast, not so for a rugged device with a mil spec rating.
Barcode Scanning: there are some situations where fiddling about for several minutes in low light conditions to get a single image based scan is acceptable; but there are a lot more where you want the reliability of effortless point and shoot barcode scanning that supports both 1D and 2d scans.
GPS accuracy: sophisticated GPS receivers that can still hold a fix beyond first wall penetration
Usability: rugged handheld manufacturers have evolved their devices for use in the field. Have you ever tried to use a consumer cell phone wearing gloves? You can capture signatures on your iPhone but did you know you need a custom stylus to work with the capacitive touch screen? What about fluctuating temperatures, dust, moisture, being left in direct sunlight for extended periods?
After Sales Service: rugged device manufacturers have excellent after service support options. For a nominal service fee you can get a plan that will offer next business day replacement. Most of us regard these “insurance” plans as extra-profit generators, however think of this cost in comparison to the down time costs of unproductive mobile employees with a DOA device.
Call me a tree-hugger but I can’t see the sense in conscripting a consumer cell phone device into service when it’s going to turn and run when the going get’s tough.
A few months ago I read about a company that had equipped a fleet of iPhones to do field service at a cost of $1200 per device. For that price you could buy two Motorola ES400’s or a top of the line MC55 – both of which would out perform an iPhone in almost every area of use. I bet dollars to donuts the exec who made that decision owns an iPhone or a Droid.