What Rugged Really Means

By Jerker Hellström, CEO, Handheld Group — October 07, 2013

Manufacturers of consumer- grade mobile devices are increasingly launching smartphones and other mobile devices and accessories that are so-called rugged, but are really what I call “ruggedish.” 

For instance, Sony introduced a waterproof Xperia Z model and Samsung, the  waterproof and dustproof Galaxy X4 Active. Even the popular (but delicate) iPhone can become tougher with the right case.

What are the reasons for this new ruggedish trend? It coincides with the huge success of the smartphones and of mobility in general. People carry their devices everywhere, are constantly online, and want their devices to work whether they are jogging in the rain or dancing in a crowded bar.

This demand sometimes leads to a drop—literally. Always on the go, people are dropping their phones more and more and a cracked display is a common sight. The new “phablets”  are harder to slide into a pocket or purse and more likely to end up on the floor.

So the traditional rugged segment of the market is growing and becoming more attractive to the mass market, and the mass producers of smartphones and tablets are manufacturing more ruggedish devices. Where will this convergence leave the often small, specialized rugged computer manufacturers?

To start, the difference between truly rugged and ruggedish must be understood.

Real rugged devices should have passed some of the MIL-STD tests, i.e. the American military standard for equipment—24 laboratory test methods ensure that the equipment can handle low pressure at high altitudes; exposure to high and low temperatures plus temperature shocks; rain, humidity, sand and dust exposure; leakage; shock and vibration.

They must be highly rated on the ingress protection (IP) scale for protection against dust and liquids. The ratings are displayed as a 2-digit number. The first digit reflects the level of protection against dust and the second digit reflects the level of protection against liquids (water).

Still, with a lack of rugged awareness will the more mainstream devices start stealing a share?

On the contrary, a new focus on consumers’ need for durable products will benefit the rugged mobile computer industry since it is best equipped to make truly rugged devices.

Plus, the professional field worker will stick with the products from the specialist rugged mobile computer makers because the products are known to be much better for their use case. A ruggedish smartphone cannot handle the tough working environments that field workers often experience.

For field professionals and their employers, there is also the question about reliability and the cost of downtime. They simply cannot afford to lose valuable productive time because of hardware malfunctions. If a rugged mobile computer is business critical, they will not choose a ruggedish computer.

The rugged computer makers have a longer perspective on the products and often offer five-year support and service plans. Their focus is for the products to last for many years, regardless of fashion. To that end, rugged computer makers choose components with longevity and the components are designed for industrial use. Plus, there is an attractive ecosystem of accessories — vehicle cradles, chargers, docks, carry cases etc.

Comprehensive service and support plans are also part of the rugged computer makers offerings, which enable customers to speedily and cost-efficiently repair damaged devices for several years after the purchase.

So, the “ruggedish” trend is actually good for everyone. There is definitely room for the mainstream device manufacturers to offer more durable products the mass market. But the truly specialized rugged computer makers will always be best equipped to supply truly rugged computers to everyone.


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