Consumer vs. Rugged Enterprise Mobile Devices

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Posted May 26, 2017 6:00:00 AM by Ryan Foust & filed under enterprise mobility solutions

As more and more retail applications shift to the cloud, companies are faced with a critical question: what mobile device should they use for their enterprise?

Since one of the main reasons for moving to the cloud in the first place is ease of use – accessibility and mobility play key roles there – this challenging decision is often unexpected.

Why not just use your existing smartphones? Or tablets? Isn’t that what you envisioned when you thought of accessing your systems from anywhere? 

Unfortunately, the enterprise mobile device question is not so easily answered. In this post, we’ll look at the differences between consumer and rugged devices and some tips on how to choose between them.

What is a Consumer Enterprise Mobile Device?

A consumer enterprise mobile device is a smartphone, tablet, or other electronic handheld that is used for business, but can also serve as a personal device. An example would be a personal smartphone that a manager also uses for business purposes such as looking up inventory data or pulling sales reports.

You can purchase consumer devices expressly for your business, although some major modifications might be required. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is another option where employees supply their own mobile devices, from which they access your company’s applications.

What is a Rugged Enterprise Mobile Device?

A rugged enterprise mobile device is a smartphone, tablet, or other electronic handheld that is built with the rigors of commercial use in mind. In What Makes a Mobile Device Rugged? from, three types of rugged are identified: semi-rugged, fully rugged, and ultra-rugged (i.e. indestructible). The form of “business rugged” you need is determined mainly by the environments you operate in. These rugged enterprise devices have options like high performance barcode scan engines, hot swappable and longer lasting batteries, as well as higher IP ratings against water and dust.

Availability and the Low Hanging Fruit

For some businesses, BYOD policies represent the proverbial “low hanging fruit.” Practically everyone has a smartphone these days. Conceivably, you could roll out your cloud-based mobile systems and have employees access them right from the smartphones and tablets they already own.

This can lead to huge savings up front, of course, because you won’t need to order a whole fleet of new devices. But it creates some significant new problems, too – problems that, in the long run, might outweigh those cost savings, as we’ll see below.


A disadvantage of consumer mobile devices is that they are not always fully equipped for your enterprise-level applications. Strictly consumer operating systems such as your base Android and iOS, for example, may not include the business extensions and APIs you require. You could end up having to manually install additional components on every potential device.

BYOD solutions add further complications in that you would need to possess the resources (and knowledge) to troubleshoot a wide variety of devices whenever problems arose. This alone could cost you countless hours of tech support.

A rugged enterprise mobile device, on the other hand, could provide a single build designed specifically for all your mobile system needs. Without all the variations that consumer devices entail, these units are streamlined and efficient in what they need to do.


Consumer solutions (and especially BYOD) can be a nightmare when it comes to security. You’re relying on each individual user to safeguard the proprietary information being accessed and utilized through their device. Even with tight login and security protocols on your applications, the device itself may not be suitably protected. And that puts you at risk.

A rugged mobile device is typically designed with enterprise-level security in mind. Multiple users and logins are easy to implement. And they’ll be less susceptible to hijacking, viruses, and other forms of data theft, too.

Life and Durability

One of the most obvious features of a rugged enterprise mobile device is its durability. Built for commercial use, “longer battery power, greater screen resiliency to light and moisture, better acoustics, and tougher drop-resistance” are just a few of the advantages, according to Data Source.

Most rugged devices include shock-absorbing screens and casings that may or may not be removable. They are meant to survive drops on the concrete floors found in most warehouses and factories. Some of the ultra-rugged models are even designed to survive being run over by heavy machinery.

Consumer devices rely mainly on third-party protection such as screen shields and cases. While these may be adequate in some situations, they do present additional costs.  And they don’t address the issues of longer battery life or daylight visibility like a commercial device would.

Price and the Total Cost of Ownership

Consumer devices are cheaper, it’s true. And that’s why many companies stick with them, despite all the advantages of more rugged devices. In fact, VDC Research showed that manufacturers deployed 32 million consumer smartphones in 2015, but just 3.4 million rugged handhelds.

The fact that these companies were willing to ignore the pitfalls of consumer devices shows how big the price gap really is. Or is it?

VDC Research took the comparison of rugged and consumer devices a step further, evaluating a “total cost of ownership.” They looked at fail rates, repair and replacement costs, and “soft costs” such as lost productivity and sales, time spent on tech support, and device maintenance.

The results:

  • $2700 annual total cost of ownership for rugged handheld devices
  • $4000 annual total cost of ownership for consumer grade handheld devices

If the only real advantage of a consumer grade enterprise mobile device was price, this VDC Research suggests that businesses should take a deeper look. While those consumer devices might be cheaper in the short-term, purchasing rugged mobile handhelds for your business needs might save you thousands of dollars in the long run.

At DecisionPoint, our retail mobile solutions can be tailored to either consumer or rugged enterprise mobile devices. If you’d like to learn more about these options, contact us today for a free consultation.

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