How HMEs Can Maximize Tracking Technology to Compete in an Uncertain Marketplace
By now, you’re probably aware that an automated asset tracking software solution offers a world of advantages including better equipment utilization, loss prevention, accurate rental billing, and more. These benefits alone can help your company survive as your reimbursement, regulatory and business environments continue to evolve.
However, the value of asset tracking software doesn’t stop there. Collecting data about the physical location of your equipment is only part of the picture. When you extend the capability of the mobile device – whether it be a handheld computer or a smartphone or tablet – to automate your workflows, you access a new level of efficiency and control. Continue reading →
TrackAbout is evaluating cross-platform mobile application development frameworks for the next version of our mobile software. There are more than a dozen competing frameworks, with more appearing every week. It’s daunting to place a bet in a marketplace with this much flux.
Recognizing the confusion in the marketplace and choosing to do something about it are the people behind the PropertyCross web site. You can read about their goals on their web site, but the short version is that they’ve published a spec for a modest mobile application and are soliciting developers to implement the spec using as many frameworks as possible. This is an invaluable resource for those trying make sense out of the options.
Source code for all implementations is available on Github as is the specification for the PropertyCross example application.
In February 2013, I downloaded all of the Android implementations published on the PropertyCross site and sideloaded them onto my Verizon Galaxy Nexus. I then used every feature of each app in an effort to get a feel of the differences between the cross-platform mobile application frameworks.
The PropertyCross implementations reviewed (in no particular order) were:
- Android Native (Java)
- jQuery Mobile (PhoneGap)
- JQTouch (PhoneGap)
- Sencha Touch 2 (PhoneGap)
- Adobe Air
Here’s a bit of news of interest to our user community. From Reuters: Honeywell sees slow 2013, to buy Intermec for $600 million.
This comes shortly after Motorola Solutions’ acquisition of rugged device manufacturer Psion, announced in June 2012 and completed in October 2012.
The year 2012 has been one of consolidation, but not innovation. We’ve been anxiously awaiting a sign that the rugged device market would adopt more modern operating system platforms than the Windows Embedded platform we’ve been stuck on for so many years. The two most obvious directions to head for these manufacturers would be Android and Windows 8 Embedded.
In February 2012, Intermec’s longtime CTO Arvin Danielson had some harsh words for Microsoft and their handling of the forthcoming release of Windows 8. Read the article for the full quotation, but the sentiment was that Arvin and Intermec had been stymied waiting for Microsoft to clue them in as to when Windows 8 would be available to OEMs. As a result, to this day there is no news that Windows 8 RT (the version of Windows 8 that runs on ARM CPUs) or Windows 8 Embedded is coming to rugged devices any time soon. The earliest we’ve been told to expect Windows 8 Embedded from Motorola is 2014.
Will the market wait until 2014 for Windows 8 Embedded, or will Android become the dominant platform for the rugged space in 2013?
Several Android rugged devices with scanning capabilities now exist:
- Honeywell Dolphin 7800
- Motorola Solutions MC40 and MC45, which can’t be found anywhere on their site, but Google returned this pdf containing no specs
- SDG Systems / Juniper RAMPAGE 6
- Pidion by Bluebird will have 4 Android devices soon.
- BP70 10.1" tablet IP65
- BP50 7" tablet IP65
- BIP-6000 handheld
- BM-70 smartphone
There are other manufacturers in the game as well. I found a thorough rugged Android device list. Most do not have scanning capability but could work with an external Bluetooth scanner.
Motorola and Honeywell are now the two remaining big players. They have done some experimentation and hedging with Android devices while waiting for Microsoft to get its story straight for Windows 8 Embedded. They are in the best position to know whether the market is really hungry for alternative OS devices, and we’ll be watching their next moves closely.
In a previous post, I mentioned a rugged Android device called the Trimble Nomad, introduced in 2009.
One of the manufacturers, SDG Systems, in partnership with Juniper Systems, just announced a new device, the Rampage 6. Here’s the press release from Juniper’s web site. The device should be available in Q3 2012.
The Rampage 6 will run Android (AOSP) 2.3. It’s not the latest version of Android (4.0.4 as of this writing), but rugged hardware rarely runs the latest version of any OS.
The Rampage 6 sports a 5.7-inch display, IP67 ratings for ingress protection, an 806MHz processor, 256MB of RAM and 4GB Flash memory. An optional 1D/2D barcode scanner is mentioned. See the site or press release for the rest of the specs.
A bit of research reveals that the Rampage is probably the same exact hardware as the Juniper Mesa Rugged Notepad, released last year, except the case color is gray and the OS is Android.
Flowgistics GmbH Flowtouch Compadion and Speedmaker
Last week, I was contacted by a representative of Flowgistics GmbH from Berlin, Germany, who had read my previous blog posts regarding rugged enterprise hardware.
Flowgistics has created two unique and innovative shells, one of which encases an iPod Touch, and another which encases an iPad. Both provide ruggedness and bar code scanning capabilities. I am told the bar code scan engines are made by Motorola Solutions.
The Flowtouch Speedmaker encases the latest iPod Touch model. It is shown on their web site as being worn on the arm, attached to a neoprene sleeve using Velcro. An innovative feature is the ability to fire the bar code scanner by tilting one’s wrist.
The Flowtouch Compadion encases an iPad 2.
The Flowgistics web site and marketing materials claim that the Speedmaker is rated IP65 and the Compadion is rated IP67. When I requested evidence of testing, I was told the testing had not yet been completed but was scheduled for July 2012. The company told me that in their own testing, the Compadion survived being immersed in water beyond 50 cm (19.69 in.) and was dropped from a height of more than 120 cm (around 4 feet) to concrete 100 times. No claims were made for the Speedmaker. They had no plans to investigate MIL-STD testing until I mentioned it, but said they would investigate the cost.
I found the specifications sections on Flowgistics’ site a little confusing. They have mixed the specs of the underlying iOS devices with the specs for their custom shells, as though they are sold together as a packaged unit.
Overall, Flowgistics was very open and I thank them for answering my questions.
Flowgistics has let me know they are looking for customers and partners in the US.
iOS in POS
Came across this Quora question/answer today which contains a short list of retailers who have committed to purchasing “significant” quantities of iOS devices for use in the retail selling process.
The article lists:
- Gap/Old Navy
- Ann Taylor
- Urban Outfitters
- JC Penny
- Tiffany and Company
- Victoria’s Secret
- Outback Steakhouse
- Guitar Center
I’d count seven of those as “upscale brands”. Apple’s image will fit in well there.
One plus in Apple’s corner which I bet influences the decision to adopt their devices in POS environments is that they rarely rev their products. One new iPhone a year (if that, recently) to contend with, and the form factor barely changes. Compare that with the avalanche of Android devices and their varying form factors, OS versions, and OEM UI customizations.
(Edit: 2012-Mar-14 — Add Moosejaw to the list )
Looks like the Motorola ET1 rugged Android tablet is out of the gate.
I’ll be talking with some people at Motorola one-on-one in a week or so about the platform, the development tools and viability for TrackAbout. I’m excited to learn more and get some tough questions answered.
Googling for the ET1 isn’t turning up any news whatsoever except the typical product announcement fluff coverage from the usual gadget sites. Not terribly surprising, given the device is squarely targeting enterprise retail and not the general consumer market. But it’d be nice if Motorola would get some news out there regarding any early customers who are planning large scale deployments with the device.
This is the first viable rugged Android platform I’ve seen that has potential for our product space. It’s great that Motorola has made this move. They’re the market leader, and if anyone can do it, they can. What’s not great is that it’s the first and only of its kind. It’s going to take time to see if it can get traction. Also, there’s just the one form factor, one size fits all.
Motorola is targeting retail (probably its biggest sector) and not industrial applications for now. A high velocity/volume barcode scanner won’t be out until Spring 2012, according to Moto. The only scanner for now is the built-in camera. That’s not going to fly in high volume/velocity scanning environments where users are accustomed to laser or linear imager scanners. It has a USB removable module, which is terrific, and could pave the way for third party hardware providers to create all manner of pluggable devices, such as RFID scanners.
Another negative for the ET1 is the lack of cellular radios. Wi-Fi only.
I’m looking forward to learning more.
I’ve written previously about Apple’s use of barcode and mag-stripe hardware from Infinite Peripherals. Looks like they have a new model out, the Linea-pro 4.
Apple recently added self-checkout capabilities to its retail stores, allowing users to use their own iPhones and iPod Touches to check themselves out for cheaper items. Cult of Mac writer Leander Kahney went to the store to check it out. Impressive, although having to join the Apple Store’s wifi seems like an unfortunate hurdle for your average shopper to deal with, and lots of average people buy Apple products.
This comes at a time when several grocery store chains have begun removing self-checkout lanes for a variety of reasons.
Yet Walmart is moving forward on using Apple’s technology to enable customers to check out items right in the aisle. When Walmart makes a move, it’s worth paying attention. Yet I can’t help wonder how much more shrinkage stores using self-checkout must see.
Looks like the Apple EasyPay POS system has some legs.
In Part 1, I discussed the pros and cons of enterprise rugged devices.
In Part 2, I compared and contrasted enterprise rugged devices with the leading consumer devices available today, with a focus on use for industrial scanning applications.
Here in Part 3, I’ll draw some conclusions and discuss potential future product directions for TrackAbout.