Making Android Tough Enough For Industrial use

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In my last post I touched on some of the factors that make consumer grade Android devices a bad fit for industrial use. These included poor battery life, lame scanning capabilities and the fact that consumer devices are just way too fragile for many industrial applications. I also noted that, despite these limitations, Androids are alive and well in the field and on the road. Here are some of the things that made this possible.

Is your device too fragile? Why not just replace it with one that isn’t? Fair question.

Until recently, there was a good reason why ruggedized Android devices were not being deployed in the field: they didn’t exist. Mainstream manufactures like Motorola and Intermec are just now releasing Android powered versions of their industrial devices and, at first glance, they appear to offer a one-stop solution for most of the problems we’ve identified: they’re tough, they have great battery life, real laser scanners and other good things.

You knew it wouldn’t be that easy. While ruggedized Android devices are now becoming available, the enterprise-ready ecosystem to support them is still in it’s early stages. Enterprise software companies and systems integrators that, for years, have made Windows Mobile CE their bread and butter are not rushing to embrace Android. The result is devices that are ready, but a support system that is not fully mature.

At Flick, we have devoted a lot of energy to filling the gaps between the Window-based ecosystem and the Android world. For example, synchonizable mobile databases are a staple of just about all enterprise solutions, but options were pretty lean on Android. To fill the void, our folks implemented an Android sync framework based on the OData standard and this has already gone on to serve as the backbone of a number of our larger enterprise projects.

Similarly, we have had to develop a number technologies to manage the idiosyncrasies of the Android OS, such as libraries to keep the OS from shutting down key apps, code to manage radio use for battery life enhancement and code that emulates the Windows “kiosk mode”. We are putting these together to create a lean application management framework.

Going forward, we see a messaging framework to enable reliable real-time messaging between Android Apps and various back-end systems as a key area to address.

Collectively, these new technologies are essentially evolving into an Android Enterprise Application platform similar to what has been available on Windows CE for years. It’s funny how things come full circle.