I had a very interesting meeting yesterday with a potential client where Rugged PDA device Road map was at the heart of the discussion.  For those who don;t know a “Road Map” is something that a manufacturer uses to demonstrate the life of a device to customers so that they can judge when it will go end of life, when support will end and what will replace the current model and when.  You see roadmaps for everything from Windows Operating systems, software and hardware and its one of the key risk and cost reducing elements that a rugged or semi-rugged PDA will have over a smartphone.

I think there’s more to roadmaps than meet the eye and I wanted to highlight some other areas you need to ask resellers and manufacturers when talking about Rugged PDA roadmaps.

1. What has happened before

It might sound obvious but no-one ever asks this. Don’t just look at the future as this is often “Perfect case” or even drivel because quite often we simply do not know yet.  Instead ask about what has happened in the past with a device, check other devices and you will get a picture of how the manufacturer actually deals with road maps.

We have manufacturers where parts are still available 7 years after EOL, we have some that promise everything but never deliver.

An example of this is how Motorola abruptly removed the MC35 from sale with 2 weeks notice and that’s only because we pushed.  The ES400 only appeared 12 months later to replace the device a lot of people stranded.  Contrast this with the 12 month overlap and careful consideration Pidion took to replace the BM150R semi rugged PDA with the BM170.  The result of this is that there are 4 hardware platforms and 4 OS’s that all came out of this 12 month period to ensure customers are looked after really well.

2.  Alternative device contingency

The fact is the world we live in today is forcing development times down and this means manufacturers are forced to bring out new kit quicker than ever before or risk looking like they’re aren’t keeping up.  This is fine but check to see if new devices are going to replace or run along side existing devices and also check to see if they will run OK with your platform.  We also check to see how easily other devices from the manufacturer will run with your existing ones.  Some manufacturers have a completely identical platform on across devices which makes them a dream to run side by side, others have different platforms that will increase risk.

3. Parts fabrication

If you have a decent sized project then we can extended your parts availability with manufacturers.  It’s no secret that anyone can go to China these days and get anything fabricated and we do all the time here.  As long as the parts aren’t patented and the quality is fine then it can take away all the argument over parts availability.  Cases, digitizers, buttons can all be fabricated easily these days and can completely take away your risks of parts going end of line as well as extending your devices life in general.

4. Support statements

Make sure you understand and see the documents where manufacturers commit to supporting the devices both in terms of parts and in terms of general support.

5.  Non service based support

You also need to make sure you know for what type of customers support statements are for.  Motorola and Intermec for instance will only guarantee parts for their full service purchasing customers, others like Pidion commit to all customers.

6. New device approval

Last but not least, your device will eventually be superseded by a new one and its often the case this will happen during your 3 or 5 year cycle.  However just make sure you give yourself plenty of time to understand the replacement model, get your hands on one and test.  Any reseller worth their salt will work with you like this and will always make sure your platform is kept running.

The fact is that some manufacturers just want to make money and profit, but there are still some who want to passionately deliver, making money a secondary goal.

The Rugged and Mobile blog.