Rugged Moving to Android - What’s Driving It?

Android operating system is known for its versatility and ease of use. Designed to operate smart devices, Android OS received widespread acceptance soon after its release. Currently, it is not only used by consumers but also by enterprises looking to mobilize their workforce. Though Android OS faces some challenges when it comes to operating rugged devices used in the field, effort is being put to close these gaps to make Android more attractive for rugged device users.

Enterprises prefer rugged devices for field use due to their higher levels of endurance, without compromising on smart features such as touch display and intuitive UI. They are used extensively in verticals like retail, healthcare, manufacturing, logistics, field services and government. Most of these industries refrain from using smart phones and tablets for rugged usage due to common hardware and software failure issues. This has led to a rise in total cost of ownership (TCO) for smart devices compared to their rugged counterparts.

When enterprises use rugged devices in hundreds or even thousands of numbers, it can be a challenge to update them with new features regularly. Also, in general, rugged smart devices have a longer lifespan compared to smart devices designed for personal use. This makes it difficult for admins to support legacy devices and platforms, especially when device manufacturers no longer support new OS versions.

For a long time, rugged devices have run on Windows based OS including Windows CE and Windows Embedded. But there is slow shift in preferences towards Android in the rugged market. One of the biggest reasons for this shift is due to Google’s effort to enter the rugged device market by introducing enterprise necessary features such as support of Android for Work, encryption, multi-user capability and device management. The large-scale use of Android SDKs and developer friendly tools offered by Google to develop Android applications by enterprises is also driving the need for rugged hardware manufacturers to adopt Android in order to cater to these enterprises.

But it might not be all smooth sailing for Android takeover of rugged devices. There are definitely some challenges:

  • Usually rugged devices are  expected to have resistive touchscreens so that they can be used while wearing gloves.
  • To manage inventory in hundreds or thousands, it becomes necessary for devices to have bar code scanning feature. Android Open Source Project (AOSP) does not have a feature for reading or deciphering barcodes.
  • Many rugged devices have their own keypad or specific keys.
  • Rugged devices have to support different safety authentication methods for Wi-Fi and VPN implemented by enterprises.
  • Rugged devices have to be kept up-to-date on critical security fixes recommended by Google.
  • Rugged devices used on the field will require efficient battery saving features and fine tuning as per different use cases.


EMM Paving the Way for Rugged Android Adoption

Google has been steadily working to address these challenges. Over the last few years, it has introduced several new features that is making rugged device OEMs move towards Android. Some of the features catering to this drive include verified boot using trusted execution environment, sandboxing applications to enhance runtime security, and enforcing SELinux system wide. Many OEMs are incorporating features such as barcode scanning, which are not dependent on OS support, in the devices itself.

Enterprise Mobility Management providers are also paving the way for easier adoption of Android OS in the rugged device industry. 42Gears EMM solution provides several features that are tailormade to help enterprises use Android-based rugged devices for business purpose. Wi-Fi specific profiles can be pushed to the devices remotely. Enterprises can keep track of device battery levels and send out alerts to users to charge their devices to ensure non-stop connectivity. Also, hardware keys and soft keys on the devices can be configured as per company policies.

42Gears also partners with some of the biggest rugged device manufacturers such as Zebra and DataLogic that offer ruggedized hardware running on Windows and Android OS.