AML Blog - The Scan

Why Consumer Devices Won’t Work in the Warehouse

Although tablets and smartphones are typically considered consumer devices for personal use, many companies have been turning to the technology to take advantage of perceived lower investment costs. The rapid rise in adoption of consumer devices in retail stores and healthcare facilities has inevitably piqued the interest of IT personnel of warehouse operations. However, warehouse personnel beware: “industry-specific” still reigns supreme. In a recent study, 90 percent of respondents considered ruggedness and durability to be highly important in considering the use of Apple™ and Android™ devices in warehouses, but only 36 percent said that they were highly satisfied with the performance of these devices in their warehouse.

These devices may seem cost-effective at first, but the total cost of ownership is much higher than ruggedized devices in the long run. Keep reading to find out why.

Product Life

Most consumer devices only last for about a year or two – they either cease to perform properly, especially after constant use, or have become obsolete after the release of a new model. Rugged devices designed specifically for the warehouse industry can last a decade or longer. And as they are designed with the warehouse setting in mind, they are more robust models with more impact resistance than your average consumer device.

Also, rugged devices will behave the same from one year to the next. New consumer devices are being constantly created and across several platforms, so each model may behave differently. They often need additional programming just to keep up with constant changes and upgrades to the operating systems.


Consumer devices are not as scalable as industrial models because they frequently change their hardware and operating systems (OS). For example:

  • The iPhone® 5 uses a completely different charging/communications connector than all of the previous Apple devices. It is also longer in shape than the iPhone 4, therefore any type of case or enclosure that was made for the previous model will not fit the new model.
  • In the launch of the recent iOS7 software update, many software apps broke or were unable to be used simply because the OS didn’t support a font that was supported in prior versions of iOS. These apps had to be fixed before they could be put back into use.

Warehouses need mobile devices that are scalable and able to grow with their business. For that reason, industry-specific handheld devices are specifically designed for long-term, often allowing them to be repeatedly configured or “cloned.”


Consumer devices like tablets and smartphones are not ergonomic in data-intensive warehouse operations. Aside from the fact that most consumer mobile devices use image scanning technology that is inferior to industrial models, they are difficult to hold and operate, especially in scan intensive environments.

The integrated cameras built into these devices have to be held at a specific angle and aligned just right to scan properly. For that reason, warehouses would need to implement a sled or mount. And again, they might run into the issue of next year’s model not fitting this year’s.

Consumer devices also use touch screen keyboards, as opposed to the full ASCII numerical keypads included on rugged mobile device models. Using a touch screen could be problematic for workers who frequently wear gloves. Not to mention, in harsh warehouse environments where workers frequently come into contact with dirt and moisture, they would have to take the time to wipe off their hands before touching the screen in order for it to work properly.

Another issue is the increased risk of dropping consumer devices. Without some sort of grip or enclosure, they are difficult to hold with one hand while typing with the other. Rugged devices, however, are designed to be ergonomically conscious. They are often long in shape, with the base acting as a handle.


Are consumer devices a tool or a toy? Consumer devices come with an increased risk of theft, vandalism and employee tampering. If a device is damaged or stolen, you not only have to replace the device, but also the accessories that went along with it. Also, most rugged devices don’t allow employees to surf the internet, whereas most consumer devices do. Access to Safari and other browsers not only paves the way for employee distractions, but also an increased risk of downloading viruses. Rugged models and their enclosures are much more tamper-proof, protecting the device from its user.

While at first consumer devices may seem like a solid, cost-effective investment, each of the issues and risks we’ve discussed significantly increase their total cost of ownership over time. Lower ownership costs, longer life span, as well as better scalability, ergonomics and security are what make rugged devices the most popular choice for today’s warehouses.

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