Wondering Why Zebra is Still Building (and Recommending) Windows™ Rugged Tablets to You When Android™ Mobility Solutions Seem to Be the Future?

There are so many reasons, including the fact that millions of workers need a “desktop” computer they can take home or into the field every day.

Firefighters look at the screen of a Zebra ET8x rugged tablet in their engine
by Patrick Seidensticker
February 23, 2022

Many people are shocked to learn that Windows® rugged tablets still account for 75% of all rugged tablet shipments worldwide, especially when they see global stat trackers like this one, which lump consumer and enterprise-grade tablets into the same category.

However, they’re typically more surprised to learn that Zebra sells brand new (not refurbished) Windows rugged tablets and 2-in-1s stacked with the latest Windows operating system (OS) version and, in some cases, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G connectivity!

With Microsoft ending support for Windows Mobile and CE devices, and no new handheld Windows mobile computers entering the market, we have been advocating for customers to migrate to Android™ mobility solutions for nearly four years now. We have even encouraged an accelerated timeline to Android ensure customers don’t lose any operational capabilities.

But that doesn’t mean we have moved away from Windows mobile computing solutions altogether – or that you should too. In fact, enterprise-grade mobile computers – such as rugged tablets and 2-in-1s –

running professional-grade Windows OS versions are going to be necessary to support many front-line applications long into the future.

That’s why we acquired Xplore Technologies in 2018, which was at the top of the enterprise and industrial rugged tablet market for over 20 years. It’s also why we’re increasing our investment in research and development of next-gen rugged tablets today. We want to ensure that we continue the legacy that Xplore started of equipping your teams with the highest quality, highest performance rugged tablets featuring the latest and greatest functionality, security and management tools.

So, if you were thinking “I didn’t know Zebra was a leader in the Windows rugged tablet market” or “I thought Windows mobile computing solutions weren’t available from Zebra anymore”, remember:

1. There are several types of mobile computing form factors, including handheld mobile computers, tablets, 2-in-1s, wearables and even fixed vehicle computers that you see on forklifts and other heavy machinery. Technically, laptops qualify as “mobile” computers by some definitions, but I would argue those are more portable than mobile. Experts agree, and you probably do too if you’ve ever tried to hold a laptop in one hand and type with the other while walking around a job site.

So, when I say Windows might still be the best OS for your front-line workers, I’m talking about Windows rugged tablets specifically. Zebra is still innovating aggressively around both form factors and offers several Windows Professional OS platforms that are equipped with the latest wireless technologies, software, security features, remote management capabilities, and more.

2. You should absolutely be migrating your wearables and handheld mobile computers to devices running the latest Android operating system (OS) as soon as possible! Security and support for legacy devices is limited, if even still available, as engineering fellow and mobility expert Bruce Willins explains in this blog post. (Zebra also has an extensive lineup of handheld and wearable Android mobile computers to choose from.)

3. There is no rush to replace Windows rugged tablets with Android tablets, unless you have a specific application that would be better served by the Android environment. But, if I’m being honest, my team and I are seeing the business case for Windows rugged tablets become stronger than ever in many sectors. For example, there are hundreds of law enforcement agencies like the Troy Police Department that want to proactively engage more with their communities. They see a move to Windows rugged tablets as a way to mobilize officers without disrupting processes. Similarly, fire and rescue crews are using Windows rugged tablets to improve coordination, command and control efforts to maintain safety and accountability at scenes. In fact, all first responders can manage rosters, receive real-time alerts if someone is in trouble, and even automate reporting and debriefs at the end of the day.

Organizations like utilities and telcos that send crews to multiple job sites each day find that Windows rugged tablets help them minimize unnecessary truck rolls back to depots or offices for information. Technicians can be dispatched to the next job quickly, use GIS to immediately locate the right infrastructure upon arrival, retrieve maintenance histories or component manuals, run diagnostics, and report progress in real time. If they need assistance, they can email a colleague, use push-to-talk (PTT) to make a call, or live stream what they’re seeing back to a remote expert.

Truth be told, even healthcare providers and retailers still see the value in rugged Windows tablets despite their shift to Android handheld mobile computers! One of Zebra’s 12-inch Windows rugged tablet platforms is used as the control panel for an automated surgical solution, and a major retailer is using one of our 10-inch Windows rugged tablet platforms to ensure timely, accurate delivery of curbside pickup orders. Associates can even accept payment in the parking lot if customers request add-ons upon arrival. This solution, which was implemented before the pandemic, proved its worth almost immediately.

Now, let’s talk about that last point a bit more.

If you have to migrate your handheld and wearable computers to the Android OS, you might think it makes the most sense to migrate your tablets to Android too. Your IT team will only need to manage one platform for your entire organization, and developers only need to create apps for one OS. Admittedly, those are strong arguments for Android rugged tablets – arguments you might even hear Zebra sales team members or partners make at some point in time if they feel you’re in a position to go all in on Android at the edge.

However, I want you to consider three things before you recommend Android rugged tablets to your leadership team or make the call to move all mobile workers to Android:

1.  You have invested a lot in Windows over the years for your back-office – or traditional office – systems. And you aren’t going to give your office-based knowledge workers Android PCs. (They don’t exist yet…at least not that I know of.) So, you really can’t move your entire organization to Android. If you are keeping Windows in the mix no matter what, it could be highly beneficial to extend the OS, along with the full Office 365 suite, to your field-based workforce. That way, they can respond to email or complete and review spreadsheets, reports, and diagrams while out of the office. They won’t have to wait until the end of the day to follow up with colleagues and customers or get tasks complete. They’ll have full functionality on their large-screen Windows rugged tablets all day long, no matter where they’re sitting or standing when they log in. And because rugged tablets are so much lighter and portable than laptops, workers will actually be able to carry them around all day.

2. You already have line-of-business applications built for Windows, many of which are used in the field today. Do you really want to rewrite them all for Android tablets? Probably not, unless you have a specialized application that you feel would be more robust on Android.

3. Mobile workers who must interact with multiple applications or follow more complex processes to do their jobs need complete workstations, whether they’re logging in from their home offices, vehicles, or multiple jobsites. That means they must be able to bring their Windows desktops wherever they go – or something that replicates the desktop experience. That’s where Windows rugged tablets and 2-in-1s shine. They can deliver the exact same computing experience as desktops, and they are far more mobile than laptops. A 2.8 lb /1.3 kg rugged 2-in-1 tablet can go from a laptop form factor to a tablet form factor in seconds. And even slate tablet form factors can be configured with keyboards to serve as vehicle mounted or tail gate computing solutions.

When a worker heads out into the field, they can take their whole “desktop” with them. When they go home at night, the “desktop” goes too. They can get all their work done without limitation, as they have every Microsoft Office application with them in full desktop form. They can also securely log into other information systems or workflow apps to stay productive. There is no transition between a handheld Android mobile device and Windows laptop or desktop. And should they ever need to go into the office – or want a multi-screen setup at their home office – they can plug in peripherals such as external monitors and printers via the input/output (I/O) ports, just like a laptop or desktop.

In other words, even as Android tablet use increases in some segments, Windows rugged tablets will always make the most sense for field-based mobile workers who must be “desktop” productive everywhere they go! It will also make more sense from an IT and cost management perspective, as there is only one computer to worry about for each worker.

How They Stack Up: Windows vs. Android Rugged Tablets

I can’t stress this enough, but there is absolutely no compromise when you choose Windows rugged tablets instead of Android rugged tablets – at least not if you’re using tablet solutions from Zebra’s portfolio Like our Android rugged tablets, the Windows versions of our Zebra L10 Series and ET5x Series Rugged Tablets, as well as the ET8x Series Rugged 2-in-1 Windows Tablets

can all be custom configured to match the specific mobile computing needs of your workers and applications in virtually any environment.

come with built-in enterprise-grade barcode scanners from the world leader in barcode scanning. They have been strategically placed to maximize scanning ergonomics and are backed by Zebra’s 123Scan and Remote Management support.

have 13MP rear cameras, which is over 50% higher resolution than competitors’ current Windows rugged tablets. Workers who must collect photographic or video evidence, document wound closures in an electronic health record (EHR) or provide proof of equipment repairs will appreciate the clarity of these cameras. So will those who must later review those images and videos to make decisions about claims, treatment plans or payments.

can be fully monitored, configured, managed, and secured remotely. They are even field serviceable in many situations.

can be accessorized however is best for the worker or workflow. Our accessory ecosystem ranges from shoulder and hand straps to custom-fit mount designs, to backroom management charging accessories and more.

offer a software advantage over competitors’ rugged tablets. For example, Workforce Connect allows for fast push-to-talk collaboration with anyone, from anywhere. It also supports secure messaging, dynamic group conversations and faster worker locationing – which is helpful for safety and operational efficiency purposes. Dispatch will always know where field teams are located.

come with PowerPrecision+ batteries, which feature intelligent life cycle technology. You, your IT team or your enterprise mobility management (EMM) partner can track the battery performance of all deployed rugged tablets on a single screen. If a worker’s tablet battery needs replacing, you – and they – will know before it fails.

are eligible for full OneCare™ Maintenance support.

They are also equally rugged, as we don’t want durability to be a deciding factor for your business. If Windows remains the right OS for you, that’s great. You’ll receive the same, extremely resilient rugged tablet-based computing solution you have from Zebra (and Xplore and Motion Computing before that). If you decide it’s time to migrate to Android rugged tablets, then the tablet design itself remains the same – and so does the quality and performance of the total solution.

The Takeaway

Even though Zebra is fully committed to Android and leading the charge in Android innovation on handheld mobile computers, wearables and rugged tablets, we are equally committed to driving further innovation in Windows mobile computing via rugged tablets and 2-in-1’s. Millions of workers in field service, industrial and enterprise environments want to bring the full desktop experience with them wherever they go, but they don’t want to lug a larger, heavier laptop everywhere.

Both rugged slate and 2-in-1 Windows tablets allow them to maintain “office” continuity without compromise. They still get a full keyboard and the full Windows Professional OS desktop with their favorite features and apps. But they also get the option to use the touchscreen to input data, whether they’re using a bare or gloved finger or active stylus pen. In fact, Windows rugged tablets are the perfect solution for those who are charged with investigating incidents, inspecting buildings or installations, maintaining or repairing equipment or auditing assets. At the same time, they can remain an integral part of a more holistic mobility or automation solution, serving as controllers for drones or robotic arms or the validation tools for work in progress, delivery, and installation applications.

So, the next time you recommend a Zebra Windows rugged tablet or 2-in-1 to your leadership team, and they say, “I thought Zebra wasn’t selling Windows rugged mobile computers anymore” or “I thought Windows was dead from an enterprise mobility perspective” you can tell them…

“Windows is alive and well! The same professional-grade OS that’s available on desktops can be extended to our mobile workers in the field via Zebra rugged tablets and 2-in-1s. Therefore, a Windows mobile computer is still the best choice if we want to protect the well-being of our business and, subsequently, our customers. The investments we made in back-end Windows systems are still of value, and we don’t have to overhaul our line-of-business applications for tablet users on the front lines. Plus, Windows may be just what we need to open the door to new revenue streams and efficiencies.”

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Editor’s Note:

Want to learn more about the benefits that Windows rugged slate or 2-in-1 tablets can bring to your business? Visit our website or schedule a meeting with workforce mobility experts that know your sector and applications as well as you do.

This white paper and video may also answer some of your questions:

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Patrick Seidensticker
Patrick Seidensticker has over 20 years in the IT industry including over 10 years in the rugged mobile device industry. His roles have ranged from product marketing and product development to sales and business development. He has launched and managed multiple generations of rugged mobile devices solutions and today leads Rugged Tablet Product Management for Zebra Technologies.