Tough Choice: Rugged vs Consumer for Enterprise Mobile Device?

Tough Choice: Rugged vs Consumer for Enterprise Mobile Device?

As enterprises have gained more options for mobile technology to support their operations, the decision on which devices to use has become more difficult. Enterprises can choose from hundreds of devices with a variety of operating systems, features and price points to support field service, logistics and other mobile enterprise activity. Before diving into device-by-device comparisons, enterprises should consider a fundamental decision: whether to use a consumer-grade or rugged, enterprise-class device.

The consumer vs. rugged argument has gone on for years but hasn’t been conclusively resolved for two reasons. First, the line between consumer and rugged devices has blurred. Second, and more importantly, the right choice depends heavily on each organization’s specific work processes, usage environment, preferences and budget. The most important considerations include the environments devices will be used in, the processes they will be used for, how long the enterprise wants the devices to remain in service, how much maintenance and downtime are considered acceptable, and how much mobile workers depend on their devices to do their jobs.

This article highlights the key differences that emerge between rugged and consumer devices when they are used to support enterprise operations. You can make the right choice by deciding which differences are most important in your work environment.

Consider the Work Environment

One of the most important factors in choosing the right enterprise mobile computer is a consideration of both the environment and the workflow for which the device is to be used. A handheld device that will land on a carpeted floor when it is dropped doesn’t need to be as rugged as one that will land on concrete. If devices will be used outdoors, the screen should make accommodations, so it remains visible in bright sunlight. Environmental resistance and ratings are also important considerations if the devices will be exposed to rain, snow, dust, dirt, chemicals or other hazards in the field. And it is also important to consider both uptime and potential loss of productivity should a device break and need repair service.

Drops are a leading cause of damage to mobile computers, resulting in downtime and lost productivity. When you consider the working environment where the device will be used, you will get a sense of its exposure to risk. For instance, a courier will carry the device for the duration of a shift and the device will be in and out of a vehicle/holster, handed to a customer and exposed to a possible drop on concrete.

To be considered rugged — and therefore reliable — mobile computers must be tested to repeatedly withstand at least 1.5 meter (five-foot) drops to a non-yielding surface.

Enterprise buyers should also be aware that manufacturers may make claims regarding testing and certification that relate to their own standards, rather than an industry standard. Buyers should therefore consider the specification that they want their enterprise device to meet and check to see if the manufacturer’s tests cover it.

It’s worth noting that just because a device is IP rated, it is not necessarily rugged, but is able to withstand dust, dirt and moisture affecting its operation. If a device isn’t rugged, its IP rating is unlikely to be preserved in the event of a drop.

The Case Against Cases

Some organizations try to “ruggedize” their smartphones and tablets by using protective cases. Cases provide some protection but will not bring devices to the level of protection recommended for non-office enterprise operations, where exposure to elements and drops to non-carpeted surfaces are common. Cases can potentially lead to condensation and increased humidity that may fog the device screen and otherwise interfere with its use.

While a case provides some external protection, it provides no internal durability to the device. The internal connections and screen housing design within a rugged device accommodates drops – the screen will flex slightly, and the connector will hold. Screens are also slightly recessed to provide added protection against cracking.

A case can enhance a non-rugged device’s durability, but it is no substitute for rugged design. Simply put, a rugged case won’t make a device rugged.

Consider the Work Process

Consumer devices are designed to give the best possible user experience for staying up to date on social media, listening to music, watching movies and TV shows and playing games, and of course texting and making phone calls. For enterprises, mobile devices are productivity tools. Enterprise devices need to help optimize work processes and provide convenient access to business applications. These factors are considered at design stages, meaning that an enterprise device has been designed with business productivity in mind.

Ease of Use

Ease of use is an important variable for how well a mobile device enhances productivity. Seconds count in high-volume operations. By saving a few seconds recording each transaction, businesses create value by producing significant time and labor savings that lower their overall cost structure.

Productivity will decrease and costs will go up if the mobile device does not easily support the work process. Consumer smartphones and tablets are not optimized for entering data (via keypad, touchscreen, barcode scanning, imaging or other peripherals). If those activities will be part of your enterprise mobility work process, carefully consider how convenient and ergonomic consumer devices will be for users. Some purpose-built enterprise computers have keypads and touchscreens that are intended for use by gloved operators to support more convenient and accurate data entry. Making a typo on a text to a friend has different consequences than entering the incorrect digit for quantity or part number on an order form. Screens also need to be readable in direct sunlight, another feature of enterprise-designed devices.

Handstraps on an enterprise device should also be taken into account. They allow a field worker to carry parcels or handle other equipment at the same time as the device and often are accompanied by a stylus for signing on screen by the customer. When coupled with buttons that allow left- or right-handed use, straps can save seconds per transaction or event and so improve productivity.

Integrated Functionality and Peripheral Support

Rugged mobile computers that are purpose built for enterprise operations often have built-in support for barcode reading, document scanning, speech input, mobile printer drivers and other functionality. Having these capabilities native to the device helps to future-proof it for multi-use cases.

Peripherals that are designed by enterprise manufacturers take into account the use case of the device and its lifecycle (for instance, the amount of times a device would be in and out of a vehicle dock in its lifetime). That’s not the case with consumer devices, whose manufacturers rely on OEMs to design and manufacture peripherals.

Barcode Scanning Performance

Ease of use is an important consideration for mobile device selection, and barcode scanning capability is an important ease-of use differentiator among devices. Smartphone cameras are capable of reading some barcodes but are not necessarily designed for the task. Not only is scanning speed a feature that should be considered, it’s important to recognize the ergonomic design of a device that enables snappy scanning from different angles and devices without causing strain on the wrist, as well as the device’s ability to read damaged barcodes.

Power Management

Mobile devices designed for productivity have power management advantages that can help ensure that batteries will last the length of the shift. For remote mobile workers, device uptime is crucial because dead batteries could represent a lost day of work. Enterprise devices have more powerful batteries, which extends the working day of a device before it will need to be recharged.

Availability of a spare battery is not something that you will necessarily see in a consumer device, where quite often the battery is integral (non-removable) to the device, which means you need to charge the whole device rather than a simple battery swap out. In the case of devices where the battery is integral to the device, you would need to consider if battery replacement is possible or if the whole device would need to be replaced. In either case, downtime and cost for repair and/or replacement should be factored in.

Consider the Productivity vs. Failure Effect

Workforce mobility provides value by saving time, preventing errors and improving the user and customer experience. Mobile devices that support and enhance these benefits provide value; devices that detract from mobile worker productivity because they break frequently, are not ergonomic, run slowly or wear out reduce the value of enterprise mobility programs. That hasn’t changed and never will, no matter how mobile device technology changes.

“Productivity factor” isn’t listed as a line on a spec sheet and isn’t always easy to understand, but enterprises need to take steps to quantify it. How a device influences productivity is more important than how big it is, how much it costs or what operating system it runs.

To understand the value of productivity, consider what would happen if a device failure delayed deliveries or caused missed appointments. Those disruptions would have an unknown cost to brand reputation, and would have measurable costs for overtime to make up for lost productivity, lost revenue opportunities in field sales and service operations, and discounts, credits and other make-goods that may be offered to customers that were inconvenienced by the delay. The biggest influence on worker productivity is device reliability, so it is important to consider the ruggedness and use-case factors presented earlier.

Failure has Hidden Costs

Consider a delivery driver out on his route making stops, then his device fails at around 11 a.m. – what does he do? Does he return to the depot for a replacement device, if any are available? Does he revert to paper?

To return to the depot would cost time and possible late or failed deliveries and result in a poor customer experience.

If he reverts to paper, each delivery will take longer, is open to error and will take more time for re-keying when he returns to the depot.

When devices fail in the field, workers have several options, but none are good, and all will result in inefficiency and reduced customer service. The key points to consider are the cost in time, resources and customer service. Imagine this cost extrapolated across a company’s entire device population and you can start to see the long-term benefits of a rugged device.

Product Lifecycle

Product lifecycle is the key differentiator between consumer smartphones and rugged mobile computers. Consumer devices have a much shorter timespan before they are superceded by a brand-new model, whereas enterprise devices are designed to provide many years of service.

Some organizations choose consumer devices for deployments over rugged, knowing that they will need to replace the devices in a shorter timeframe. While this strategy eliminates the surprise of replacement costs, you would need to forecast device cost over a certain time period to ensure that it’s a cost-competitive option vs. a rugged model. It’s also worth noting that once a device reaches end of life (EOL), so will the spares and accessories available for it.

Enterprise devices, while providing a much longer lifespan, will also have replacements, spares and repairs factored into the design process, which helps ensure that the devices provide the maximum length of service before replacement.

Spares, Repairs and Support

Every time devices need to be replaced due to breakage or failure, organizations incur costs and delays related to device configuration and deployment, in addition to the direct cost of purchasing the new device.

The higher the failure rate for a category of devices, the larger spare pool the organization should keep on hand to mitigate lost productivity when devices fail. Adding to the spare pool adds to the overall acquisition cost, but not the per-unit acquisition cost, and thus may be overlooked in some cost comparisons.

It is important to note that rugged enterprise devices are designed to be repairable and manufacturers typically have mature service programs and infrastructures that can contractually commit the manufacturer to quickly providing replacement devices and completing repairs in a timeframe that is acceptable to the organization.

Honeywell Has Clear Vision for Ruggedized Devices

Honeywell has the clarity of vision, domain expertise, and solution to your mobile ruggedized device challenges with their Mobility Edge™ family of devices.

Mobility Edge is based upon extensive research gathered from Honeywell’s global community of customers from a range of technologies. Honeywell recognized that businesses wanted a unified hardware and software platform for all form factors – one that allowed for rapid deployments, robust performance, and adaptability to changing needs.

We completely rethought our approach to meeting the challenges of supporting a mobile workforce, and Mobility Edge was the answer. This unified, dynamic platform for mobile computing is designed to help:

  • Accelerate Deployments
  • Optimize Business Performance
  • Extend Lifecycle
  • Strengthen Security

Established service and support data went into the development of Mobility Edge. We optimized our mobility devices based on the work patterns of many customers and actual users to deliver more realistic testing and precise engineering requirements. Using historical insights from service data, we addressed common failure points during the design phase, making our Mobility Edge products more resilient and stable. We also mined our detailed support data to further improve and refine product quality. By providing a unified hardware and software platform with an agile approach, we can bring you more secure and reliable solutions across your operation.

Mobility Edge offers an integrated, repeatable, scalable approach to device management that is based on a common hardware and software platform. Designed for Android™, it delivers a unified platform that all software solutions are based on. Businesses can develop and deploy faster while reducing development costs.

The Mobility Edge common platform is composed of:

  • Common SOM (System On Module), which includes the CPU, memory, WWAN (in selected devices), WLAN, Bluetooth®, near-field communication (NFC), and Zigbee (in selected devices).
  • Common Operating System Image with support for multiple generations of Android, from Android O through Android R.
  • Common Software Ecosystem that includes not just Honeywell software, but also Honeywell-approved ISVs (independent software vendors).

Together these common elements minimize your company’s cost, effort, and risk. They accelerate your time-to-value so you can start deploying devices into the hands of your mobile workers much faster. And they maximize your ROI by extending the lifecycle of your devices.

The following is a overview of the current Mobility Edge family:

  • Dolphin CN80 mobile computer, an ultra-rugged device for warehouse, manufacturing, and transportation and logistics environments. The most durable handheld Honeywell has ever made, it features both keypad and large touchscreen interface for quick, efficient data entry.
  • Dolphin CT60 mobile computer, a rugged versatile business tool for highly mobile frontline workers in scan-intensive workflows in pickup and delivery, DSD, and parcel post. It offers a long-lasting battery, high-performance scanning, and exceptional durability and reliability.
  • Dolphin CT40 mobile computer, a full-touch, five-inch display device designed for retail, hospitality, and light field mobility environments. It’s an intuitive, compact productivity tool optimized for hours of comfortable use.
  • Dolphin CK65 mobile computer, a rugged, flexible solution for warehouse and manufacturing environments, with both touchscreen and keypad data input options for quick data entry and enhanced scanning read ranges of up to 15.2 m (50 ft).
  • Thor VM1A the world’s top-selling vehicle-mounted computer. Hits the sweet spot of overall size, display size, and keypad. The Smart Dock enables use on multiple vehicles and helps reduce support and maintenance costs. A field-replaceable front panel minimizes downtime.


As mobile computers have evolved and become commonly used in business, some of the once-clear differences between what is a consumer device and what is an enterprise mobile computer have disappeared. That has made choosing between enterprise and consumer devices more challenging. Making the right choice requires developing an understanding of the usage environment and work processes, and how various device features and functions contribute to productivity and reliability. Specialized mobile work processes usually require specialized devices that are designed for the task. Understanding which specialized features and environmental protections are needed is key to making the right device choice.

Because productivity is so important, rugged enterprise mobile computers tend to have a total cost of ownership (TCO) advantage over consumer models in challenging work environments where devices are exposed to drops to hard surfaces, weather, spills and other potential causes of damaged consumer devices tend to cost less than rugged enterprise models to purchase, and tend to last less time in enterprise environments; rugged devices cost more to purchase but tend to cost less over the entire lifecycle if downtime, maintenance and replacement costs are considered.


Barry J. Ewell

Barry J. Ewell is a Senior Content Marketing Communications Specialist for Honeywell Industrial Automation. He has been researching and writing on supply chain topics since 1991.