Choosing the Ideal Mobile OS Architecture for your Rugged Handhelds and Tablets

When it came to rugged devices, it used to be there was only one dominant mobile operating system (OS) choice: some version of Windows — Mobile, Embedded, or CE. However, with the emergence of new mobile platforms and Microsoft’s delay in rolling out its own new mobile platform, rugged device users have multiple options. Selecting a mobile OS architecture will affect device migration strategies, user interfaces, security, and other elements of a mobile deployment, and there are pros and cons to each platform, but your application and environment should guide the process.

Below are some of the aspects of each mobile operating system that may affect its utility within your rugged device application.

Windows:For users with legacy CE or Windows Mobile deployments, Microsoft has effectively ended any further development of those specific platforms. While hardware vendors and resellers like omniQ will continue to support the devices, don’t expect any further innovation or development in that segment.

Instead, Microsoft has shifted its focus to Windows 10, which supports apps across all of its device platforms. Windows 10 Embedded IoT is a good mobile operating system choice for customers that rely heavily on Microsoft for security and application functions. The full version of Windows 10 is a good choice for tablet-based applications in the field that require full Windows support — in essence, it allows the tablet to act as a full-blow field workstation/PC.

Apple iOS:There has been increasing activity in the enterprise around Apple’s iOS devices (iPhones, iPads) in part because the user interface is so familiar to employees, and also because the devices tend to be less expensive. However, iOS is not a good fit for many rugged warehouse or field-based applications.

If a company has opted to standardize on Apple platforms, that will limit the range of rugged options available. There are currently no rugged iOS devices, although there are cases/covers available that can provide some measure of protection. These devices are also not well suited to applications that require heavy or intense barcode scanning without additional accessories.

Android:The Android OS is presently the dominant choice in the smartphone market, and is quickly gaining ground in the rugged device space. It combines the ease of use and familiarity of personal phones, similar to iOS, with a more diverse selection of available rugged hardware from several manufacturers.

More business-friendly features (like Android for Work) have made the platform easier to integrate with line-of-business applications. There is also a wider universe of available applications that support the platform and a large group of developers. New security enhancements have also made it more attractive, allowing careful segmentation of “personal data” and “corporate business data” on bring your own device (BYOD) and corporately owned, personally enabled (COPE) devices.

However, different manufacturers support different versions of Android, which can lead to compatibility issues when it comes to support for specific applications on some devices. Managing the capabilities of the version of OS is just as important as which OS variety.

Ultimately, the company has to make its mobile operating system decision based on what is best suited to meet their objectives. If enhanced security is required, that will affect how files are shared or how users are connected back to the corporate network. The need to support legacy applications can also affect this decision.

It’s important to be aware of the version of the mobile operating system supported by the manufacturer you work with and the software systems you need to support. That’s why it is important to work with a manufacturer like Zebra Technologies. Zebra has a variety of handheld and tablets to choose from – like the TC8000 or the ET50/ET55 – and can offer the support you need regardless of your situation. If you have a legacy application designed for older Windows-based mobile devices, you will need to work out a migration path even if you opt to move to Windows 10, because the applications will need to be re-architected. That means the cost to move to Android might not be any higher than updating Windows environments – the decision will come down to features, functions, and security.

It is best to work with a solution integrator that has in-depth experience with the various operating systems, compatibility, security and device management systems to know the best options for your specific objectives.