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March 17, 2010

Consumerization of rugged markets?

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on Windows Mobile and the vertical markets and concluded with the question, "So what will the small but significant number of vendors who make and sell Windows Mobile devices do as their chosen operating system platform looks increasingly dated and is becoming a target of customer dissatisfaction?" I got some good (and rather concerned) feedback on that column, and I think it's an issue that is not going to go away.

Yesterday I saw an article entitled "Delays Decimate Microsoft's Enterprise Mobile Market Share" at, and they asked, "So, what of the rugged device market? A market largely dominated by bulky devices running Windows Mobile from manufacturers like Motorola and Intermec. Howe (Director of Anywhere Consumer Research at Yankee Group) says that enterprise applications are becoming more and more prevalent on consumer-grade smart phones, and the rugged hardware manufacturers will become more and more niche-focused."

What they're saying is that enterprise and vertical market functionality is increasingly becoming available in inexpensive, standard consumer products, and the people who use that functionality do not want to walk around with two phones or handhelds. That's been pretty much accepted for a while now, as evidenced by the number of ruggedized handhelds that have integrated phones. The problem, though, as Howe puts it in the article, is that "No one wants to go around looking like a UPS guy when they are out at the movies."

And perhaps an even bigger problem is that no one, including the UPS guy, wants to put up anymore with a clumsy, recalcitrant user interface that fights you every step along the way. Not when the iPhone and Android and Palm have shown us that it can be done so much better.

What will happen? I honestly don't think that Microsoft's mantra that handhelds need Windows CE because it leverages enterprise expertise washes anymore. Not when the handheld platform has been neglected to the degree Windows CE has been neglected. It's much more likely that Windows CE is still alive on vertical markets because it's a leap of faith to trust Apple or Google or open source to care about the relatively small vertical markets (even though some sales, like UPS, can be in the hundreds of thousands).

Yet, the fact is that I can now take an iPhone, which doesn't even have a scanner, and scan barcodes with its built-in camera. Or take pictures with it that are far better than anything I've seen out of the integrated cameras on Windows CE devices. And due to the laws of physics, small devices are often inherently more rugged (and easier to ruggedize) than large ones. Does that mean we'll soon see slightly modified smartphones do the job of rugged handhelds?

Probably not, but the thought definitely enters the mind.

Posted by conradb212 at March 17, 2010 08:31 PM