Are these the final days of rugged laptops? (Part One)

Feb 03, 2014 • FeaturesHardwarehandheldmotion computinggartnerhardwareRugged laptopsrugged tabletsUncategorized

In the first part of the this two part series we explore why tablets are becoming the mobile computing option of choice as sales of rugged laptops decline in the consumer markets and if this trend is mirrored in field service industries as well... 

At first glance you would be mistaken for thinking that Apple invented the whole tablet industry when they brought the first generation iPad to the market just four years ago. However, whilst as with the iphone Steve Jobs’ and Co. weren’t so much the originators of this exciting new technology, they sure as hell were the ones that perfected it and brought the tablet computer into the mainstream.
In fact at the time of the release of the first iPad the Wall Street Journal went as far as to describe the device as being a “laptop killer”. So four years on, with the tablet revolution at full charge are we seeing the final days of the laptop?

And what about in the more demanding domain of field service where rugged laptops have been the solution for so long?

Processing power: Rugged Tablets now matching rugged laptops

One of the biggest barriers to tablet computing in both the consumer and commercial environments has always been processing power. However, within the last five years we have seen a rise in computational power within tablets. Whereas not so long go we may have faced a decision to opt for the portability and mobility of a tablet or the greater capabilities of a laptop. This isn’t the case today.

Motion Computing’s UK Head, Ian Davies concurs with this assertion. Davies states:

“The processing power of tablet PCs is no longer an issue in most discussions. Previously, some tablet users did have to decide between the ease of use, ruggedisation and mobility offered by tablets, versus the processing power and speed of rugged laptops, but no more.”

Davies is certainly well placed to comment as Motion are one of the leading providers of rugged tablets including the distinctive looking F5te.

The tablet, having been designed with field service in mind, is easily identified by its integrated carry handle, but it is what is inside that counts. Packing an impressive 8gb of RAM and with the option of a powerful i7 processor there is plenty of processing power available to match all but the very highest spec rugged laptops.

Consumerisation: The public embrace tablet computing

Another major factor in the rise of tablets within the workplace is the consumerisation of technology. With smartphones and tablets becoming commonplace within homes across the globe it is natural for organisations to harness this familiarity with the devices to ensure the investment in technology leads to improved productivity in the workforce.

Specialist hardware manufacturer Handheld UK’s Managing Director, Dave Cawsey confirms this saying

“Users are looking for the same/close to or similar feel of retail devices (IPad, Android and WIN 8 Tablets) they have at home in the work place, most IT departments are savvy of this connection and look to make the transition as ‘user’ friendly as possible to maximise workforce acceptance of a new system/device”

Within the consumer sector the trend is clear, tablets are on the rise.

Leading technology research house Gartner identified that large numbers of consumers are switching across to tablets as their main computer, and this is a trend that is set to continue rather than being a passing fad according to their research.

Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner commented

“While there will be some individuals who retain both a personal PC and a tablet, especially those who use either or both for work and play, most will be satisfied with the experience they get from a tablet as their main computing device”

Indeed Gartner state that 116 million tablets were sold in 2012, with circa 197 million tablets being sold in 2013.

They predict sales for 2014 will rise to 266 million and by 2017 they predict that this will rise to nearly half a billion.

The same report predicts a different future for laptops however, with laptop sales showing a year on year decline from 350 million in 2012 to 339 million in 2013. A similar trend is highly likely within the more specialised niche of rugged laptops.

Whilst some experts have tried to attempt to align this declining trend with the failure of Windows 8 to emulate the accessibility and functionality of both Android and Apple’s iOS operating systems, the added mobility of tablet devices versus that of both regular and rugged laptops can not be overlooked.

Also an added benefit is that as tablet devices comprise of a solid unit, rather than rugged laptops, which no matter how well built still have a slight weakness at the joint between the screen and keyboard, are naturally more robust.

Of course the combination of being both more robust and more portable than laptops makes tablets and smart phones a perfect choice for field service, so a shift towards away from rugged laptops and towards rugged tablets is certainly on the cards.

Look out for the second part of this feature where we examine the impact of the BYOD trend on companies purchasing rugged laptops, why tablets are perfect for ruggedistation and the solution for those field service technicians that require high data input levels.

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