Mobile Operating Systems for WMS

The Consumer Electronics Show wrapped up last week in Las Vegas, full of beautiful new high definition displays, ultrabooks and a plethora of tablets.  While focused on consumer grade products, CES is an event corporate America watches from the corner of the eye.  New consumer devices, notably smartphones and tablets, are invading the enterprise.  Smartphones and tablets have no doubt altered the landscape of mobile computing, and the business community at large is adopting these technologies at an unimaginable pace.  Software firms have made mobile apps available for their business applications including SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft.  The better touch inputs, speedier mobile processing, and improved battery technologies have turned the world of mobile operating systems upside down.  Will we see these new innovations in mobile computing come to the rugged enterprise devices used in distribution and manufacturing environments?  The short answer is absolutely Yes.

The current OS of choice for the rugged enterprise devices used for WMS transactions is based on Windows CE, a mobile version of Windows.  It has familiar programming frameworks used for many business applications on the desktop such as .Net and Java, allowing software firms to take advantage of the (mostly) same tools for desktop and mobile development.  Windows CE even on a small screen has a user interface that is familiar to the vast majority of users.  The introduction of iOS and Android into the smartphone/tablet market for consumers showed a number of Windows CE’s long tolerated flaws: poor touch input response, underpowered components, and ease of use.  The two new mobile operating systems that will invade mobile RF computers used in WMS implementations will be Android and Windows 8, barring any announcements from Apple regarding a rugged barcode scanning iPod Touch-like device (such a device does exist in Apple retail locations running custom POS software, but they are not making them for sale or available to third party software developers) or a remarkable come-back from the embattled Blackberry maker Research in Motion.

A number of rugged enterprise device manufacturers have announced or will announce Android equipped units this year.  These new tablets and handhelds will add a number of specialized features compared to their consumer brethren, mainly rugged IP/MIL-STD ratings for harsh industrial environments, and software support for RFID and barcode scanners, necessary components for any device in the warehouse or stockroom.  Android has a large developer community and a head start over it’s closer competitor, Microsoft’s Windows 8.  The successor to Windows CE was the answer to the iPhone and first Android smartphones, called Windows Phone 7.  WP7 is NOT the successor to Windows CE in the rugged enterprise device space.  That successor is Windows 8, touted to run on desktops and tablet form factors.  Windows 8 aims to address the shortfalls of Windows CE on mobile touch-enabled devices, and to support the new power efficient processor architectures powering tablets and RF mobile computers.

How will it shake out?  Great question.  On one hand the geek in all of us rejoices as innovation rapidly accelerates in the mobile device space.  On the other hand, we panic that the slower hand of enterprise procurement will render just purchased units obsolete or that employment longevity is dependent on picking the winning platform.  Fear not.

AWL is advancing in 2012 with some great new features.  AWL already runs on mobile versions of Windows, and will expand to run natively on Android, iOS, and Blackberry devices.  Windows 8 support will follow after its release to take advantage of new rugged mobile devices utilizing the platform.  So IT and procurement specialists can relax, AWL will support a variety of mobile platforms.  A formal announcement is forthcoming in 2012, and if you are anything like us, we hope you are eagerly anticipating the challenges and rewards of the changing landscape.