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The words "Handheld Troubles" in big letters with a supermarket in the background
Written by Jan Kaempfer – General Manager Marketing for Panasonic TOUGHBOOK Europe

Handheld failures frustrate workers and cost businesses

Mobile computing promises to free-up the workforce from labour intensive and repetitive activities and improve productivity but the latest research shows that mobile workers are feeling the frustrations of working with their current handheld mobile computing devices. Jan Kaempfer General Manager Marketing for Panasonic TOUGHBOOK Europe looks at the issues.

Despite the promise to free up the workers from labour intensive tasks, handheld mobile computing devices are frustrating the European workforce, according to the latest research. Failures are frustrating delivery drivers, warehouse workers, retailers and emergency services personnel across Europe and costing business.

The research, undertaken by Opinion Matters on behalf of Panasonic TOUGHBOOK, reports that on average handheld mobile computing devices with bar code readers fail more than 1.5 times a year* and take 3 days or more to replace or repair.

A TOUGHBOOK N1 device being dropped in a puddle

More worryingly, over 70% of workers felt their handheld device was more prone to failure than other technology devices they used.

 

Device Damage

There can be no denying that the life of a mobile device in the fast-paced business world is tough but device users were certainly not treating their handhelds with kid gloves. Workers reported device damage was caused by a wide variety of issues from drops and spills, to being left in freezing or melting hot conditions to being run over by vehicles!

Problem caused by:

Device dropped    45%
Left it in a hot place    29%
Just stopped working    27%
Dropped in water    24%
Run over by a vehicle    22%
Spilt liquid on device    20%
Left in a cold place    11%

The most frequent damage from these accidents varied from battery, button and touchscreen issues to bar code reader failure.

graph showing the most frequent type of damage faults reported after handheld accidents

Annoying attributes

Even when their devices were operating effectively, mobile workers still found them frustrating. The most annoying things about their handheld device were slow and inaccurate bar code readers, the inability to use the device screen with gloves, its heavy weight, poor battery life and bad design.

The top design improvements that mobile workers wanted to see were the additions of an anti-scratch coating, a hand or shoulder strap, heat reflective coating, hot swap batteries and a more easily visible display screen.

 

Productivity promise

And if these improvements were made and they had their perfect handheld device, workers promised huge increases in productivity as a result. Workers estimated that they would be 41% more productive on average.

There can be no doubt that mobile workers are feeling the frustrations of working with their current handheld mobile computing devices. As well as demotivating the workforce, these issues are having a huge cost and customer service impact on the businesses they work for.

The pressures are high in the business sectors where these bar code scanning handheld devices are used because every second counts. The work environment is also often difficult and exposed, which has an impact on the number of device accidents and failure rates. As a result, it is more critical than ever that technology buyers understand the device design factors that will have the biggest impact on their workforce and their business – ergonomic design, rugged protection and technology differentiators like hot swappable batteries and daylight visible screens.

 

What to look out for...

So, what should buyers be looking for when specifying a new rugged handheld device for their mobile workers? Here are my top tips:

1. Not all rugged devices are created equal – Protection

There is no standard definition for the term ‘Rugged’. It can mean something very different from vendor to vendor, so check out exactly what the device is protected against and to what standard.

2. See clearly now…Displays

A professional display is not just about being outdoor readable and touch capable. Check whether the touchscreens can accept input in high and low temperatures, can be used with a capacitive or digitiser pen, are able to be used with gloves and can be operated in the rain.  An anti-reflective layer also provides the best viewability under direct sunlight.

3. Don’t get left feeling run down…Batteries

High capacity battery options and replaceable batteries lead to lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and better Return on Investment (ROI). High capacity battery options are available to support long shifts without downtime or access to power. Always ask for a device with a high capacity battery option and exchangeable design to improve TCO and ROI.

4. Accessories can make a difference

It’s not just a purpose-built handheld device that makes a difference to the mobile workforce, the right accessories can be the difference to increasing productivity or frustrating the workforce. Check your provider builds backward compatibility into its products to ensure that power packs, docks and accessories can be reused from one generation of device to the next.

5. Making your IT investment last…Serviceability

More features in smaller form factors leads to devices that are difficult to customise and to service. This can impact on TCO. Make sure components are replaceable and parts are guaranteed to be available for a minimum of 5 years.

6. No hanging around…Turn Around Time

Device downtime cuts productivity and can also have an impact on reputation, customers, and employee morale. Ask your supplier how quickly they can deliver a like-for-like replacement device; and what their net device repair time is.

 

*Based on a sample of over 1250 users in UK, Germany, France, Netherlands and Sweden

To read more about the Handheld Troubles research, please read the executive summary.

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