Android is the operating system dutifully running behind the scenes on many of the most popular consumer mobile devices available today (you might very well be reading this on your personal Android device right now). But even as Android is well regarded for its massive global success in the consumer market, the mobile platform’s position is becoming increasingly strong for long-term success in industrial mobility.
When considering Android’s prospects as the backbone to a mobile app that’s needed for industrial use, it should be understood how OS adoption in the consumer marketplace often foreshadows and directly contributes to triumph in the business world.
A brief history of consumer impact on industrial mobility devices
The consumer and industrial markets may appear to be separate, but in reality they are constantly borrowing from and influencing one another, with popular software or new capabilities perpetually arriving and spreading across the consumer/industrial divide. In the realm of industrial mobility devices, the beginning of this could be seen two decades ago with the rising popularity of consumer OS devices like the Pocket PC and PalmOS. Users familiar with these devices in their private lives led to those tools then storming the business world, utilizing custom drivers and libraries to add industrial functionality, such as barcode reading for efficient product deployment.
For an example of industry influencing the consumer market, look at how wearable devices seem futuristic to the public, which is just becoming accustomed to exercise trackers and smart watches, among other applications. However, wearables have long been a part of industrial use, having been deployed in warehouse logistics since the 1990s.
So, which OS will claim industrial mobility’s future?
The broad success and acceptance of an OS in the consumer market is a powerful boon to that system’s value in the enterprise, which is why Android will start playing a larger role in this arena. It’s true that businesses have multiple platforms to consider; iOS commands a sizeable consumer market share, and Windows CE remains in use in much of today’s industrial equipment. However, if we’re looking into the future, iOS hovers at 20% market share (compared to Android’s 76.6% and rising). Windows CE is only set to be supported for four more years, a blink of an eye for the businesses reliant on the OS who must begin planning their transitions quickly. (It should be noted that Windows 10, while not yet released, is showing great potential in the enterprise space.)
Developing industrial mobile apps for the dominant OS comes with a slew of advantages. Workers will often require less or no training because they are familiar with the UI/UX from using their personal devices. Consumer success increases technology vendor mindshare, as vendors know the technology and are able to make business-planning decisions based on a reliable platform. A widely used OS also grants access to programmer resources, tools and critical application support. Industrial workers and developers can leverage off-the-shelf “prosumer” app store applications and services that arise on a popular consumer OS. But perhaps the greatest appeal of a successful consumer OS for the enterprise is longevity. Android (and iOS) are certain to be available in coming years, while countless examples show how unsuccessful consumer platforms can no longer serve the enterprise because they simply do not survive the test of time – you may recall KIN (gone in four months), WP7 (24 months), or Bada (30 months).
All these factors support the case for Android as a strong long-term choice for mobile apps built for industrial use. It’s also notable that Java, used to develop Android applications, is one of the most popular programming languages. Independent software vendors tend to develop for the platform with the largest installed base; in this case, that’s Android. Furthermore, the leveraging of Android as open-source software as a base for platforms such as those from Amazon or Xiaomi only broadens Android’s value for industrial use.
Best practices for Android industrial mobility development
So you’ve decided to develop industrial apps with Android – how best to go about it? Android development actually offers more power and information to developers working with industrial devices than it does for consumer developers. When it comes to configuring the device, rebooting the device, performing time syncs, device lockdown, data capture or battery management, the same Android development APIs provide more detailed information and enable broader capabilities on industrial devices. These insightful details should be utilized to deliver more robust features for the enterprise, such as enterprise-class data capture for superior scanning performance (barcodes, etc), enterprise-grade security with lockdown at the peripheral and feature level, more resilient wireless connectivity, and more. A great positive of Android for industrial mobility is simply that Android is continually adding attractive new enterprise features.
As far as how long to envision your app lasting once developed, you should anticipate providing support over a 10-year lifespan. When coding, abstract as much as possible, so the software is bound to the OS as little as possible. The reality is that updating an app in an industrial setting is not always simple or doable, something you need to keep in mind with the quality of your launch product. At the same time, the ruggedness of current Android equipment for the enterprise user – designed with sure-grip contours and micro textures and complete with customizable buttons for faster access to the most heavily-used features – promises that the hardware will keep up with whichever app and device its employees use
You’re looking for an easy deployment in which the user is not in charge and has no need to be, but simply receives the device as a ready-to-use tool for the job. Devices using your app need to be ready for work straight out of the box. Visualize the deployment of thousands of devices, already set up, seamlessly transitioning into their everyday use conditions. If it applies to your use case and you can support it, a mobile device management solution can certainly deliver tremendous value. You also want to deploy your solution in a way that allows for easy support, with logging solution behavior, remote analysis and management, and hotfix deployment readily available when needed.
Whether your development project focuses solely on Android devices or they represent only a component, leveraging specific knowledge of the OS’s advantages can make for a deployment that is well-received and smoothly completed. With Android, many workers will enjoy a similar interface to the one on the devices in their pockets, and your enterprise can be secure that such devices will continue to be popular and supported in the long-term.