With increasing requirement for mobilizing the work force, enterprises are finding it hard to select the right mobility devices to fulfill their requirements. Selecting a device with all the best features may not always be the right decision. The essence is to find the right mix of specifications that will best serve the purpose and provide favorable ROI. The device must be selected with consideration to various factors. The scrutiny primarily includes: evaluation of performance, durability, communication capabilities etc.
Without any doubt, the best mobile device is the one with all the best features. But the question to be asked is, would you like to invest in a solution in which a larger portion of its ability is going to be unused during its life time? Instead, a mobility device with the right configurations will make the deployments hassle free and reduces the TCO considerably. Both software and hardware performance are to be considered equally. Since Microsoft is withdrawing their enterprise mobility OS platforms, Android OS versions do not have an immediate contender to choose from. Hence, it is best to select the latest versions of Android OS for any deployment.
Hardware performance involves evaluation of the processor features to identify the capabilities of the device. The most important factors affecting processor performance are
1. CPU Capacity(Number of cores) – Selection of processor can be decided according to the extent of multitasking involved. The multitasking capability will be higher for the chip-set with more cores. But for an environment that does not have too many parallel processes at the same time,a basic chip-set with a limited number of core will be sufficient
Eg: For a solution that has fewer applications, a device like the Zebra MC40 with dual-core processor will be sufficient. Conversely, an application with too many processes that consume a lot of CPU power will require additional cores. At least a hex-core device like the Zebra TC75x or a Honeywell CT60 octa-core device for best performance. A hex-core or an octa-core device will have more CPU processing power to accommodate and better prioritize the process threads.
2. Clock speed refers to the rate at which a processor completes a cycle. It defines how quickly the processor can complete all process threads in one cycle. But a higher clock speed does not always give the best performance. Other features like the instruction set, architecture, number of cores, bus speed, Cache size, Ram speed etc have higher influence on the performance. Therefore, Clock speed is a definite value to be checked provided all the other features are favorable.
3. On-board cache – CPU cache is one of the major factors that affect the performance of the processor. The larger the Cache size, more data and instructions can be accommodated in the CPU. This in turn helps complete the compute cycles quickly. In addition, there are different layers for the CPU cache starting from L1 where the cache is divided into two parts: One for storing data and the other for Instructions. However, in L2 cache a single storage itself deals with both data and instructions aligned to the processor making process transactions easier & faster.
4. Memory or RAM has two main attributes that affect your system’s performance: capacity and speed.
a. Memory capacity: The more gigabytes (GB) your memory module has, the more programs you can have open at once.
b. Memory Speed: The amount of time that it takes RAM to receive a request from the processor and then read or write data. Generally, the faster the RAM, the faster the processing speeds.
Today’s enterprises focusing on solutions that can work in challenging conditions, look for the most efficient device like the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-A2 that has a maximum Clock speed of 2.4GHz, 4 GB RAM and 2 MB cache. Even though the device only has a Quad Core, the processor architecture of the AtomTM x5-Z8550 delivers performance with efficient multitasking capabilities.
Enterprise mobiles need to be rugged and IP rated (Ingress Protection) to help organizations safeguard their investments for a longer period. The degree of ruggedness depends on where, how and who will be using the device. The key is to decide the level of physical protection required for any given environmental condition.Typically, highly rugged mobile device like the Zebra TC75 with drop specs of up to 6ft/1.8m (multiple drops to concrete), MIL-STD-810G & IP rating IP67 that can withstand shocks, vibrations, extreme weather and electrostatic discharges are positioned for harsh environments, eg. warehouses, manufacturing facilities, yards etc. Whereas a semi rugged device such as the Zebra TC51/TC56 is ideal in a customer service area or in a sales department. There are various hazardous deployments like in the oil & gas industry where devices like Juniper systems – Archer 2 that are Intrinsic Safe(IS) must be used. IS devices do not release electrical or thermal energy under normal or abnormal conditions so as not to cause ignition of certain specific hazardous atmospheric mixtures.
The most important aspect of a mobility solution is to make sure that the workforce is always available. The mode of communication depends on various factors such as Location (indoors or outdoors), Data type (voice or data only mode) etc. In Wi-Fi configurations it is most advantages to have mobile devices that can support both 2.4 GHz & 5.0 GHz channels. The advantage of retaining the IEEE 802.11a – 5.0 GHz band available is that, usually the devices using this band are far fewer in number than the overcrowded 802.11b – 2.4 GHz bands. This reduces the network interference and latency, enabling seamless transmission of information. All the enterprise mobility implementations will have either WWAN or a WLAN communication network set for ensuring the workforce visibility and for collecting data. In case of selecting a WWAN device, it is necessary to identify the right product that accommodates the latest 4G LTE technology to the older CDMA/GSM technologies. When it comes to WLAN communication standards, there are too many specifications set by IEEE in their 802.11 standards. In addition to the IEEE 802.11 standards a & b, there are other later versions such as g/n/ac/ad/af/ag/ah/ai/aj/aq/ax/ay. These standards have further improved the communication ability between network connected devices by introducing various additional features to WLAN such as multiple-input multiple-output antennas (MIMO), Multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO) etc. improving the data rate, low latency and faster link speed. Other developments in Wi-fi technology have enabled communication in a wide range of frequencies starting from the Sub 1 GHz up to 60 GHz signals.
While an analysis of the above three major factors are essential, do note that there are other factors that affect an organization’s deployment of mobility devices. It is necessary to keep in mind the physical characteristics (dimensions, size of the device, weight etc.) of the device depending on the method of usage. You may not want your end user to carry a bulky / heavy device throughout his or her shift. But such a device can be deployed in a fleet management system. For e.g A device fixed inside a vehicle can be heavy & large as it may need to have a large screen size. The brightness of the screen and anti-glare features are also vital if the devices are going to be used in outdoor locations directly under the sun. This helps the user to view the screen and perform actions under bright light. In some cases, it is necessary to have a device that can be operated with a gloved hand. The ergonomics of the device in terms of key/ button layout and scan window position is also critical in operation(whether to use a virtual keyboard or a physical keypad). In some cases, a scan gun form factor is necessary for ease of scanning bar-codes, while in some locations a smartphone form factor is ideal. Even though I have elaborated and focused on the above mentioned major deciding factors according to my experience in enterprise mobility deployments, there are several other minor factors involved.