Is Your Mobile Device Tough Enough?

Carl Weinschenk

Sage North America has released a survey that comes to the unsurprising conclusion that people who do hard labor at remote sites, or more accurately, “construction, manufacturing and distribution firms,” like mobile devices.

Results don’t have to be surprising to be relevant and important. There are plenty of numbers in the report to flesh out the top line finding. The highlights are available at eWeek:

The survey of 249 construction firms indicated they are using mobile devices to access company information while on the job site and to reduce travel and energy costs. Mobile device usage has increasingly enabled the ability for construction workers to provide instant reporting while at the job site, allows decisions to be made while at the job site, ultimately cutting down on costly and time-consuming errors, the report said.

Smartphones, at 77 percent usage among those surveyed, were the most common devices, followed by notebooks (72 percent) and tablets (26 percent). What would be a surprise is if the tablet percentage doesn’t explode the next time the survey or a similar one is conducted.

The verticals most commonly mentioned as natural targets for mobility are education and health care. Those are great verticals, but no more promising than the topic of this survey. The difference in public profile may simply be that more people come in contact with tablets and smartphones in conjunction with doctors’ visits and schooling.

Health care and, perhaps to a lesser degree, education make special demands on mobile devices with which vendors must react. In health care, easy input and above all security are vital and influence vendors’ and ultimately customers’ hardware and software choices. In construction and manufacturing, the special concern is ruggedness. Of course, security is vital as well, but the most unique aspect clearly is the ability of devices to take a licking – actually, many – and keep on ticking.

Of course, some products that serve well in rugged environments also are offered to the wider public, such as the G-Form Xtreme Case for iPhone 5 that was reviewed this week at G Style.

Other devices are more directly aimed at tough work locales. Late last month, for instance, Bullitt Mobile, which produces Cat mobile phones for Caterpillar, released The Cat B15 in the UK. The device is designed to laugh off a fall of almost six feet and, according to The Fonecast, is waterproof, dustproof and scratch-resistant, and its touchscreen can be used with wet fingers.

Sprint, which has a long history of operating with gear in tough environments through its push-to-talk offerings, has released the second Sonim with XP Strike IS, according to CNET. The handset is a toughie:

… handsets such as these are often necessary for those working in the oil and gas industry. Such companies also sometimes ban the use of camera phones. As such, the Strike IS doesn't have one, either.

On the more futuristic front, ExtremeTech reports that screens of the future may be made of sapphire, which the story says is the second hardest substance to diamond. The story is full of interesting tidbits. The bottom line is that sapphire screens appear to be on the near-term horizon, at least for some devices:

At around three times the strength and scratch resistance of Corning’s Gorilla Glass, sapphire glass would make an almost perfect smartphone screen. There’s one caveat: according to a market analyst, a sheet of Gorilla Glass costs around $3, while the same piece of sapphire glass would cost $30. Thanks to increasing competition, though, the cost of sapphire glass is dropping. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a high-end smartphone (such as the iPhone) use a sapphire screen in the next few years. It’s worth noting that the iPhone 5 already uses sapphire glass to protect the rear camera lens, so Apple is certainly aware of sapphire’s potential.

Mobility often is a key to success in harsh environments. That link between mobility and success will continue to grow. The vendors’ and service providers’ desire to serve it will, as well.

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