Sell The Right Rugged Form Factor
For some customers, laptops are too bulky and handhelds are too small â€" thatâ€™s where UMPCs (ultra-mobile personal computers) come into play.
Within the last year, UMPCs have become a hot topic within mobile computing. Several manufacturers launched UMPCs this year, including Panasonic Computer Solutions Company, which previously played only in the rugged laptop and tablet spaces. I had an opportunity to speak with Sheila O'Neil, Panasonic's VP of channel sales, about what this new technology means for VARs.
New Processor Extends Life, Functionality Of UMPCs
One of the major barriers with UMPCs has been their unique processor requirements. To be mobile in a small form factor, a processor must be fast while being physically small and consuming low amounts of power. Intel has made headway in this area with the release of its Atom microchip. "This new chip will allow manufacturers to build small devices capable of running full-featured operating systems [e.g. XP, Vista], offering a wide variety of Internet connectivity options and using power-efficient technologies," says O'Neil. Intel Atom processors pack 47 million transistors on a chip measuring less than 25 mm, making the Atom Intel's smallest and lowest-power processor. "UMPCs with the Atom chip are due to hit the market this year and could prove to be among the most important developments ever for improving the efficiency of the walking worker," says O'Neil. Extended battery life is also a key advancement for mobile devices. Many UMPCs now include hot-swappable batteries that make 8 to 9 hours of battery life achievable for the first time.
Which Vertical Markets Should You Target For UMPC Sales?
There are numerous opportunities for VARs as a result of the technology enhancements available in next-generation UMPCs. "VARs need to be aware of the applications available for rugged UMPCs," says O'Neil. Small form factor, yet rugged, UMPCs can be deployed in several applications, including:
n Field service — to provide an additional capability for route salesmen, as well as in factories and plants
n Fire/EMS — to enhance mobile wireless communications from vehicle to incident location, and inventory tracking through the bar code reader
n Law enforcement — to extend full applications such as CAD (computer-aided design) down to foot patrol, motorcycle, and mounted police
n Military — to enhance intelligence and operations
n Oil and gas — to enhance control and management of equipment in processing locations, such as refineries
n State and local government — enable transportation and railroad departments to conduct cargo and railroad crossing inspections that require the ability to attach a device to get analytics and calculate max speeds for rail turns and signal data
n Telco — to bring a new level of portability to employees/contractors who are installing equipment and servicing customers
n Utilities — to increase the efficiency of tasks such as repairs, outage management, and automated meter reading (AMR) by enabling real-time data sharing for the fleet
Understand The Value Proposition For UMPCs
Prior to selling UMPCs, VARs should become familiar with the value proposition of rugged devices and the benefits of a full Windows operating system versus a reduced version such as Windows CE or even DOS. Before selling a UMPC, VARs should try to get answers to the following questions: Where and when does this solution need to work? What tasks will be completed using this technology? How harsh is the work environment? Does information need to be captured and sent in real time? Who will be using the technology?
Avoid Common Rugged Mobile PC Sales Pitfalls
Any system designed for walking workers should undergo drop-testing using the same military specification (e.g. MIL-STD 810F) test procedures required of rugged notebook computers. "As with rugged notebook solutions, a rugged UMPC provides users with a significantly lower total cost of ownership [TCO]," says O'Neil. "The cost of mobile computer failure goes far beyond the repair itself, including lost productivity and revenue, the impact of reduced customer service, and the intangible cost of lower employee morale." As with any new technology, VARs should work closely with their customers to fully understand their needs. There is a role for many different forms of rugged computers within the mobile enterprise. New rugged UMPCs can open up new opportunities for VARs and their customers.