A wide range of manufacturers now offer peripherals that add key functionality to BlackBerry devices, from mobile printers to rugged cases that support barcode scanning and signature capture -- and as a result, companies that once gave BlackBerry smartphones only to executives are starting to explore new ways to leverage the devices for the rest of their workforce.
VDC Research analyst David Krebs says one key driver for these deployments is the fact that many companies are simply looking for ways to get more out of their BlackBerry devices. "What is clear from the research that we're doing is that people want to leverage the BlackBerry platform for more than just what they're using it for today -- and that will mean trying to find clean ways to add I/O functionality," he says.
And so, with the help of these peripherals, BlackBerry smartphones are increasingly competing with rugged devices from companies like Motorola and Intermec. "We've seen environments where people are asking themselves, 'Do we really need this level of ruggedness?'... and a lot of these field-based applications really aren't what I would consider barcode scan intensive," Krebs says.
In the future, Krebs suggests, RIM itself may well step into this market. "The space that sits between a high end smartphone and a ruggedized device is a pretty broad, unoccupied area, so I think devices are going to be introduced that bridge that gap... and smartphones are going to start incorporating a greater I/O capability so that you don't necessarily have to accessorize them," he says.
Until then, companies like The Hudson Group, which provides reservation technology solutions to travel and transportation companies, are counting on peripherals to get the functionality they need. The Hudson Group uses Infinite Peripherals' DPP-350 Bluetooth magnetic stripe reader and mobile printer to enable its clients to swipe credit cards, and to print receipts and boarding passes, from a BlackBerry smartphone.
The Hudson Group's Cliff Goodman says the experience of using the DPP-350 is extremely straightforward. "It hooks up to the BlackBerry via Bluetooth, the guy makes a reservation... and then he either swipes the card or completes the order, and prints the receipt or the boarding pass out of the DPP-350," he says.
The result, Goodman says, is greatly increased efficiency. "They're not sending the driver out with a manifest... he's actually pulling the job up via a preset query on his BlackBerry, and sending the receipt and boarding pass from the swipe to the IP printer," he says. "It saves trees, it saves labor, and it saves time, which turns into money."
Similarly, automobile glass repair and replacement company Safelite AutoGlass uses BlackBerry devices equipped with Datamax-O'Neil portable printers and ExpeData's Enterprise Digital Writing platform based on Anoto's Digital Pen and Paper technology to enable its 4,000 mobile technicians to print documents and capture signatures at the customer's location, wherever that may be.
Chris Delong, Safelite's director of operations, says one key selling point for the BlackBerry over a ruggedized device was the degree of control the company could exercise over BlackBerry smartphones. "We don't even use them for email -- it's strictly a device that we leverage to do order fulfillment," he says. "The ability to be able to lock the BlackBerry down to do only the functions we want it to be able to do, but still have the opportunity to open it up for, say, Google Maps... we didn't see that in the other platforms."
And Delong says Safelite is always looking for new ways to make use of the peripherals -- the company is currently investigating the possibility of using the digital pen to add barcode scanning functionality as well. "We believe we can use that pen to read the barcode by swiping the pen across it, and we have that in limited trial right now... it has far outshined what our expectations were, in lots of little ways," he says.
Global logistics solutions provider NYK Logistics recently started using BlackBerry devices in EnterMo Limited's EnterMoCase to provide its asset recovery personnel with barcode scanning, signature capture and photo functionality -- the company recently switched from more cumbersome and expensive tablet computers to the BlackBerry/EnterMoCase combination, of which NYK now has about 60 deployed.
Jim Henry, NYK's director of reverse logistics, says the fact that the BlackBerry and EnterMoCase provide a single integrated solution is key. "We can do barcode scanning, we can take pictures of the assets as required, it does signature capture -- and then almost in real time it sends it back to our central database, so we have the information that's required to do any kind of reconciliation or reporting immediately," he says.
Like Safelite's Delong, Henry says this is likely to be just the first of many ways that NYK will make use of the solution. "We plan to expand our use of it as we expand our programs," he says. "We'll be doing more asset recovery -- this will allow us to expand our footprint in the asset recovery marketplace -- and we'll find other applications to do onsite data collection.... This adds another arrow in our quiver," he says.