Rugged Devices: Consumer vs. Ruggedized Mobile Devices

For field service organizations, a key question is whether to go with rugged devices or consumer devices for technicians in the field. With more and more field service organizations such as home services, utilities and information technology companies investing in transformative software to improve their business, choosing the right mobile device becomes essential to success.

Organizations of all sizes from small to large must evaluated rugged devices on their own specific needs and requirements. The level of rugged-ability required for a given device depends on its intended use.

It is important not to assume that a consumer-grade mobile device will work just fine in their environment. Field service organizations in particular should be aware of the pros and cons of using a consumer device – whether it’s a handheld or tablet – in a mobile environment.

For example, a home service field service technician probably wouldn’t want to be tossing their mobile device across the front seat of the truck on their way to the next job. Once or twice might be fine, but 8+ times a day, 5 days a week begins to increase the risk of damage. Temperature can affect a mobile device over time, too, as well as water, moisture and humidity. Whether it’s sitting in a hot car, or in direct sunlight (or just the opposite in cold temperatures), wear and tear on the components – not to mention condensation build-up and a host of other issues — can begin to reduce the life of a consumer device.

Consumer and most commercial devices are designed for home, office and light mobile work in controlled environments. For work in unpredictable environments – or critical work – the cost of execution (i.e., the person-hours, equipment, travel time and cost of failure) adds up to be far more than the procurement cost of the equipment needed to succeed.

When considering total cost of ownership (TCO), it’s important to compare the failure rates of consumer devices with the failure rates of rugged devices. VDC Research reports the failure rates of consumer devices (basically any problem requiring technical support) can be as high as 40 per cent, which means that repairs or replacements are made much more frequently. Although it may seem like the cost to replace a consumer device is a fraction of what it would cost to replace a rugged device, the actual costs are much higher for a consumer device when considering the lost time and productivity, lost sales and actual expense incurred to purchase a replacement. “Soft costs” such as support time, lost productivity, and device maintenance account for a much higher percentage of TCO. Soft costs can be much higher than hard costs, and can vary depending on device type. Based on research conducted by VDC, the average annual total cost of ownership of a rugged device is approximately $2,700, while the average annual total cost of ownership of a non-rugged handheld device could exceed $4,000.

However, the lines between rugged devices and consumer ones are becoming more blurred with companies such as Samsung making a play for what is seen to be a growing and lucrative market. These include the semi-ruggedized versions of their consumer products such as the Galaxy Tab Active.

At the same time, rugged device manufacturers have become aware of the growing desire from their client base for more consumer-looking designs in the rugged space. As such, products like the Motion R12 have begun to emerge which combines the sleek, cleaner lines of a consumer tablet in a rugged device that can fully withstand the rigors of the field.

Although the cost of the initial purchase of consumer or commercial devices and some have become more durable, the reliability and lifespan of rugged devices are typically more suited for field service organizations, thereby allowing the organization to leverage their field management and CRM software to enable technicians to deliver best-in-class service to its customers.