The lines between ruggedised devices and consumer mobile are becoming increasingly blurred
as traditional players compete with new entrants for market share.
Industry standards once formerly adopted by rugged manufacturers are now being used for consumer devices, while the power of a popular mobile brand means rugged heavyweights are now bending to the agenda set by consumer manufacturers in a bid to stay relevant.
New market entrants
The concept of a rugged device is no longer restricted to the enterprise market, as Motorola,
Samsung and also Apple have released devices that claim to be ‘semi ruggedised’. Samsung used its rugged range to expand into the b2b footprint, with mobile distributor Ingram Micro recently telling Mobile that the manufacturer’s plan seems to be working.
‘We’ve seen a massive uplift in demand in the past two to three years for Samsung’s semi-ruggedised devices, which can be protected from dust and water,’ says former Ingram business development manager, Dan Manser.
‘The Galaxy xCover 3 and Galaxy Tab Active are two of our top sellers. In a b2b environment a lot of people use phones outside so there’s a need for standalone devices that don’t need protective cases. Samsung recognises it’s had great success in the consumer market and needs to focus on b2b, so it’s tailoring devices so they fit more in business space. It’s about adding value to the device.’
The importance of brand has also been a strong driver for ruggedised devices from Samsung, which explained that its strengths in the consumer market will help it when it comes to enterprise. Graham Long, VP of Samsung’s Business team explained: ‘We’ve taken the user experience people have embraced and learnt to expect in the consumer market, and we’re now harnessing this to enhance the business experience.’
Audio device manufacturer Jabra is also following in Samsung’s footsteps, recently revealing ambitions to target a share of the ‘one million artisan-type workers’. Nigel Dunn, MD of UK & Ireland, explains that the plan involves using ruggedised audio devices to ‘empower the workforce’, claiming that it too will target the ruggedised b2b market.
Adopting a standard
Ruggedised devices have long been differentiated through the use of IP – or Ingress Protection –
ratings, which is a standard used to define how waterproof, dustproof or drop-proof a device is. This rating is the difference between a rugged smartphone and a consumer smartphone, and is becoming rapidly adopted in the consumer space.
Jon Tucker, European product marketing manager at Panasonic, explains that this is due to ‘the consumer being more aware of rugged then they have been ever before’, with Bullitt using these ratings to compete with rivals.
Colin Batt, co-CEO of the ruggedised manufacturer, says: ‘The rugged market is in three segments. It starts with enterprise on top, then consumer rugged where we see a major revolution, and then the other spectrum is life-proof devices, which you will find from Sony and Alcatel. We have a very good proposition in regards to IP ratings – we carry the IP 60 rating for oil resistant and water proof. When you compare us with rivals most of them haven’t got as many capabilities.’
However, rugged distributor Varlink has disputed this standard. CEO Mike Pullon tells Mobile that consumers see popular branded mobile devices listed with an IP rating and believe it’s an easily obtainable standard, therefore assuming that the device is properly protected.
He explains that consumer brands cannot match the level of support and device care that a rugged company can, but that a consumer mobile device is more aesthetically pleasing and therefore becomes the user’s first choice.
For this reason, rugged manufacturers are now changing their approach to make softer-looking devices, ditching the heavy-duty look in favour of something ‘consumer-esque’.
Setting the agenda
‘There is a whole bunch of workplace features that the rugged guys are focusing on that continue to
give advantage over the commercial products,’ Pullon tells Mobile. ‘All the manufacturers we work with are making products that look like a commercial device.
‘If you look at people who have made the toughest devices – such as Panasonic and Getac and also Honeywell and Zebra – those guys understand that the agenda has been set by much larger organisations. For example, when Samsung reduced the Galaxy device last year and gave it a greater level of rugged and presented the potential of the products, I think that was the culmination of consumer devices towards the rugged sector.
Pullon explains that the move towards a smaller form factor is helping traditional manufacturers ‘win back some market share’, with the move towards an Android operating system also allowing them to cut costs.
He says: ‘Consumer-type behaviour is coming into commercial. Our resellers are seeing their customers want to know what the cost is going to be. It is a trend that has been developing over the past three to four years, but our partners now see that it is a standard part of their kitbag.
‘The traditional players have won back some market share because of small form factor and Android OS, and they have cut costs because of it. The impact of a move towards the aesthetics has given the opportunity to produce low-cost devices that are more appealing for mobile rollouts. There are also far more partnerships going on.’
Ruggedised manufacturer Zebra describes the shift as the industry ‘softening its look’, with Andy McBain, head of regional product management explaining that the company is ‘introducing more consumer styling, no more industrial colours’. He tells Mobile that this demand is coming from the customers, many of which he claims want the best of both worlds after ‘trying consumer’ but ending up returning to ruggedised devices.
Cost of ownership
Despite the convergence between rugged and consumer, McBain explains that a lot of companies
return to devices fit for a working environment once they realise the costs attached to a consumer device.
‘There is a desire in particular verticals to associate with a certain brand, but over the past 18 months we’ve seen a number of those companies – a lot of retailers – go down the consumer route and then turn back.
‘The most common issue is having to have a range of consumer products as the life cycle services and the cost to manage devices, and replacement devices, goes up. The cost of ownership is much less with a rugged device and customers have put a toe in the water and are now coming back to enterprise graded products.’
Widening the market
According to Panasonic, the disturbance from the consumer space is a good thing, one that forces
ruggedised players out of the niche market to look for different revenue streams.
‘The general state of the market is quite positive,’ Tucker explains. ‘If you look around rugged notebooks we have seen the market plateau and we have seen large growth in the consumer market in the tablet space. Now players in the traditional market have benefitted from the tablet frenzy that is driving in the rugged devices being thin.
‘At the end of the day the challenge is that from a shareholder point of view you expect growth year on year, and that becomes challenging in a niche market such as rugged, and that makes profits small, and we need to look at areas outside the traditional market – we need something that is more than just rugged.
‘We’re looking into wearables and we are investing as we think it may have a place in the b2b market through mounted devices. It will make the niche rugged market a little bit wider, and this is happening across the industry – the traditional rugged competition is looking at ways to extend the niche ruggedised market a little bit and go after some of the outside players.’