Windows sunset still unfolding
The decision by Microsoft a few years back to phase out or “sunset” support for its Windows CE and Windows Mobile operating systems (OSs) by 2020 doesn’t mean the migration to lift truck computers running alternatives such as Android is complete.The retired Windows OSs were so widely used on lift trucks that some organizations are still making the transition and have issues to be cognizant of as they migrate to new devices, says Edwin Ringle, a senior solutions consultant for Peak Technologies, one of the country’s largest integrators and value-added resellers of mobile devices and mobility solutions.“It’s been a couple of years now [since the sunset], and while some companies have migrated to newer devices, many others haven’t done so yet, whether that is due to budgetary constraints or that the pandemic kind of slowed down the migration,” says Ringle. “In fact, we’re seeing ongoing migration efforts in our customer base, and we expect that to continue through the end of 2022 and even into 2023.”Running an unsupported OS, adds Ringle, poses an information technology (IT) security risk, since security patches and functional updates are not available for the old Windows OSs. The best course is to upgrade to newer devices on a supported OS. Fortunately, the major makers of rugged mobile computers for lift trucks have different Android options, including more traditional vehicle mount units (VMU) form factor and rugged Android tablets.For companies still pondering this migration, top considerations include whether to go tablet versus VMU, with task flexibility being the main attraction for Android tablets on lift trucks, says Ringle.“As part of the migration efforts still going on today, we’re seeing a switch among some clients to tablets going on their lift trucks,” says Ringle. “Some customers, instead of using a dedicated-purpose VMU, are looking at tablets with a quick release feature on the mount so operators can easily detach the device from the fork truck and use it for other purposes off the truck like cycle counting.
Some tablets are offered with integrated bar code scanners for this purpose.”Analyst firm VDC Research estimated last August that the lift truck mounted computer market, valued at £172 million in 2020, would grow to £203 million in 2025 at a CAGR of 2.8%.VDC also sees two key Android variants–the more traditional VMUs and tablets–with tablet growth expected to outpace the overall market growth. VDC noted that after sluggish sales in 2020, sales for lift truck computers picked up in 2021, led by activity in Asian and European markets.While rugged tablets excel when it comes to off-the-truck flexibility and work well with cellular services, one issue to consider with tablets is the effects of vibration, says Ringle, especially when it comes to the mount offering a reliable, vibration resistant connection with the tablet while the lift truck is being driven.Ringle advises that if a company does want to look at Android-based tablets with a quick release, the mount should have a rugged design for withstanding vibrations. That said, Android tablets can be an attractive option for lift trucks that involve frequent tasks like exception handling or cycle counting that may call for the operator to step off the truck.With either option–Android-based VMU or Android rugged tablet–more companies are opting for ring or wrist-mounted scanners to allow for more freedom of movement and hands-free operation, Ringle says.Some connection considerations come into play as companies continue the migration, adds Ringle.
For one thing, the newer computers may not be compatible with older Wi-Fi systems or security protocols that some sites are still running. In some cases, Ringle says, it may be necessary to upgrade the Wi-Fi to support newer Android devices.Another option, Ringle adds, is to consider enterprise-class cellular service to be the wireless infrastructure for mobile devices on lift trucks, rather than Wi-Fi. Additionally, with any OS or mobile devices, it’s important for larger fleets or operations to have a mobile device management (MDM) solution or solution provider in place to allow for centralized updating and management of the devices.Multiple MDMs are on the market, adds Ringle, including some free ones, but when it comes to lift truck computing, it’s crucial the MDM can use application programming interfaces to all aspects of the hardware so the bar code scanning engine and keypads can be supported with the MDM, as well as security and OS updates.Those companies that have made the move to Android-based devices for lift trucks like the speed and reliability of the platform, reports Ringle, along with the graphical user interface and look and feel of the OS, which many younger workers grew up using on mobile phones.“These rugged Android devices just run–they are very reliable,” says Ringle. “Overall, they are providing a good user experience, because of graphical user interface capability, and navigation that many workers are familiar with because of smart phones.
When a younger worker picks up an Android tablet, many already will basically know how it operates, because of that familiarity.”Finally, a touchscreen only device isn’t always practical for scenarios such as cold storage where operators need to wear gloves.
In cases where gloves are worn, an Android-based VMU with a keyboard, or a tablet and mount with a physical keyboard, works better than a touchscreen, Ringle says.
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