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

Feb 12, 2014 • FeaturesHardwarehandheldhardwareRugged laptopsrugged tablets

In part one this two part feature we looked at the how tablets are coming to the fore as sales of rugged laptops decline in the consumer markets and whether this trend is mirrored in field service industries as well. In part two we explore 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.


Is BYOD a threat to rugged laptops?

A major factor to consider in the decline of rugged laptops is the BYOD trend that is becoming more common in industry.

Being led by the growth in high powerful, accessible mobile consumer devices, BYOD takes advantage of the power of personal devices such as smartphones and the way almost all applications are now delivered via the internet. The combination of improved processing power in smaller devices, web based systems and user familiarity have seen a huge amount of companies move towards using device agnostic applications that can be placed on field workers own devices.

This again has given yet another reason for companies with mobile workers to shy away from purchasing laptops for their field staff – why bother when the workers themselves are able to provide the hardware necessary to fulfil their duties themselves?


But there are some tough environments out there

But what about more extreme environments where fully rugged devices are required?

Well the fact that tablets (and indeed smart phones) are a single unit does make them that much more robust and of course this also lends them to ruggedisation more naturally also. Whether it is simply buying rugged protective cases for more standard devices such as the apple iPad or purpose built rugged tablets from makers such as Motion, Getac or Handheld, powerful, portable devices are available that are designed to withstand a wide range of environmental conditions.

Whilst most specialist manufactures do still produce both rugged laptops and rugged tablets there does seem to be a case for field service companies following the consumer trend.

Cawsey’s Handheld are one such manufacturer seeing the trend mirrored in their own sales.

“We are certainly seeing a move from keyboard based devices like traditional laptop form factors to non-keyboard/touchscreen input devices across the board, particularly in Field Service projects.”

Adding further insight Cawsey continued

“Data collected in the field, as opposed to the data sent to the field tech, is less therefore there is no need for a bulky data input intensive device and field service data can be added through photos, barcode or RFID scans along with data input via pull down menus”

However, there is still one area in which the laptop outshines both smartphones and tablets. That is when large amounts of data input is required. Reflecting on this Cawsey adds

“Bottom line is that if you have a data input hungry workflow or application then you can’t beat a keyboard for efficient mass input of data”

So whilst tablets may be becoming the optimal choice for many field service companies there are still going to be some companies who will need their field technicians to have the functionality of a laptop.


Making the conversion

In this instance the perfect solution is the hybrid/convertible device.

Such devices have a tablet top-half with a (sometimes detachable) keyboard bottom-half. Whilst heavier than standard tablets they have the major benefit of keyboard input.

However, they do often have a common weakness. Typically, the base of a convertible attaches to the display at a single joint called a swivel hinge or rotating hinge. This common design element creates a physical point of weakness which is of course unacceptable in tougher field environments.

However, as with laptops and tablets there are specialist solutions available. The Panasonic Toughbook 19, for example, is advertised as a more durable convertible notebook. The HP EliteBook 2760p convertible notebook uses a reinforced hinge that protrudes slightly from the rear of the unit.

Whilst it is seemingly inevitable that smartphones and tablets will continue to become the primary sources of mobile computing in the field service industry it is these convertible devices that will ultimately see traditional laptops become a thing of the past.