e-Commerce is Driving an (Environmentally-Conscious) Evolution in Mobile Computer Design

Next-generation of ultra-rugged mobile computer will help warehouse operators, retailers and manufacturers prepare for the future while preserving the efficiency of past processes

The new Zebra MC9300 mobile computer is used by a worker on a loading dock.
by Joe White
April 02, 2019

We just unveiled the Android™-based Zebra MC9300, the next generation of our flagship ultra-rugged mobile computer, and you may be wondering why. Or, more specifically, why right now? Zebra has sold millions of MC9000 devices since 2003. It is literally the world’s best-selling and most trusted enterprise-class mobile computer. Why change a good thing? What inclined Zebra to proactively invest in the research, design and development of a new model at this point in time? The MC9000 still has sales momentum with no plan for end-of-sale, the devices are still going strong despite their daily use for over a decade and customers are still very happy with the efficiency and output the MC9000 provides.

So why now? The answer is that every decision we have made regarding the design and timing of the MC9300 was dictated by current and predicted market demands – on our customers. Let me explain…

Manufacturers, Warehouse Operators and Retailers are Reaching a Crossroads

An onslaught of uncontrollable, market-dictated change and the growing logistical complexity of global supply chains have commanded a series of technology modifications at the edge of every business. For example, hundreds of thousands of enterprises are rushing to migrate to Android mobile computers for use by millions of front-line workers in the next two years before Microsoft ends support for its legacy Windows® Embedded Handheld/CE 7. You may be one of them.

At the same time, the e-commerce boom is driving change across every part of the supply chain.  The full list of implications is far too long to outline here, but I know that many of you are negotiating how to simultaneously keep up with the pace of e-commerce and prepare for future economic shifts in order to capture your edge. All while trying to employ more eco-conscious supply chain and sourcing practices that minimize the environmental cost of new technology.

That’s a heavy lift. It’s also the reason why Zebra decided that right now was the right time to bring an even better version of the world’s best-selling and most trusted enterprise-grade, ultra-rugged mobile computer to market.

You need an enhanced set of technology tools to better predict customer demand, increase inventory visibility beyond the four walls and become more agile. Mobile technologies are core to operational foresight and efficiency. Arming front-line workers with the MC9300 today enables you to be proactive in your operational improvements without being wasteful, from both a resource and environmental perspective. The enhancements we have made to this mobile computer will ensure your workers can successfully share, access and apply the real-time information required to sustain a heightened operational tempo without risk to operational interruption.

What We Have Changed and What We Have Not – and Why

Enhancement #1: Built the MC9300 on the enterprise- and future-ready Android OS (versus Windows as we have done with previous MC9000 devices).

The Reason: To ease the Windows-to-Android migration.

Our priority is to simplify the integration and migration of legacy Windows® devices to Android without interrupting operations. The MC9300 adds to the industry’s largest, most diverse portfolio of Android mobile computers. Workers enjoy the simplicity of Android, an operating system (OS) they already know well in a familiar form factor. You enjoy a device that’s fortified with Zebra’s Mobility DNA™ software suite, which is what transforms Android into an enterprise-ready OS, as well as LifeGuard™ for Android. This delivers the predictable security updates you need to keep your Zebra Android devices secure every day they are in service — along with easy end-to-end control of the OS update process. The MC9300 also comes with integrated support for your Terminal Emulation (TE) apps, which makes it easy to migrate from Windows to Android.  There is no backend modification or user training required. And when you're ready to turn your “green screen” TE apps into elegant touch-centric intuitive screens to boost productivity, Mobility DNA's All-Touch TE makes it easy.

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Enhancement #2: Integrating the latest Qualcomm™ chipset ensures support for the next two versions of Android (Android P & Q) and improved the ergonomics. We also added more than 20 new features to improve practically every aspect of the device from application and accessory performance to user comfort, ease of use, ruggedness, data capture flexibility and device management.

The Reason: To increase your responsiveness and agility amidst new e-commerce demands.

You need visibility into inventory location and volume, order fulfillment status and production rates multiple times each day to ensure flawless delivery to your customers. So, we upgraded the components that dictate computing speed and performance to ensure you can access all business performance indicators on demand. We also wanted to help you improve fulfillment accuracy without compromising on efficiency. The good news: early tests indicate that the MC9300 offers a 10 percent productivity boost over competitive devices. Even better, the improved user experience will make it easier than ever to onboard MC9300 users during your migration and as your workforce grows.

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Enhancement #3: Increased device reliability and serviceability.

The Reason: To minimize the environmental impact of necessary technology refreshes.

When designing the MC93000, our goal was to maximize its survivability, longevity of use and lifecycle. It is a goal we achieved: the MC9300 is currently the most rugged device in its class. Beyond being virtually waterproof, drop-proof, dust-proof and tumble-proof, it will work in extreme temperatures and hazardous locations if needed. One model features a system of heaters and a freezer-rated battery for frost-free operations. Another has been Class 1 Division 2 (C1D2)-certified. Our engineering team also infused eco-sensitive design elements into the device to extend component lifecycle, availability and support. This overall emphasis on durability reduces churn (i.e. environmentally-harmful waste).

We also took care to consider reuse scenarios. For example, we made the MC9300 backwards compatible with existing MC9000 charging cradles via an adapter. Customers won’t have to unnecessarily dispose of perfectly-good accessories when they upgrade to the new device. And since the MC9300 is even more durable than its predecessor, customers will be able to use both the device and accessories for a longer period of time. In turn, they’ll enjoy a lower total cost of ownership (TCO and higher return on investment (ROI). 

We did not change many of the key features and capabilities that made this particular mobile computer so popular in the first place. The MC9300 still offers field-replaceable keypad layouts to minimize training and service downtime. Pre-loaded and licensed terminal emulation still allows the mobile computers to be used out of the box. And the MC9300 can be equipped with diverse scan engine options for every application, including direct part marking scanners.

We do not like to create churn for our customers. We do not want you to “upgrade” your mobile devices, scanners or printers every 1-2 years like consumer or business-grade technology manufacturers. In fact, we pride ourselves on the longevity of our products. We meticulously design every mobile computer to accommodate the future business and technology demands that we – Zebra and our customers and partners collectively – anticipate. We engineer our mobile computers to survive more rough handling and hazards than they may ever incur. We equip them with the right enterprise-grade software and data-engagement tools to support evolving applications, including those that may not yet be identified. And we load them with more than enough power and storage capacity to sustain workers and workflows for years. (That is why the MC9000 has been the preferred ultra-rugged mobile computer by warehouse operators, manufacturers, logistics managers and retailers for the last 16 years.)

So, when we do decide to make a change to one of our technology platforms, we certainly don’t take it lightly.

In a recent sit-down, my colleague Lynsert Walcolm did a fantastic job articulating why we made the decisions we did about the MC9300’s design from both an environmental and cost-efficiency perspective. He also talked about how our decision to bring the MC9300 to market now will yield a greater ROI for customers. You’ll want to hear what he has to say:

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Final Thought: Our priority at Zebra has always been the success of our customers, and our investments in R&D, engineering and support reflect that. The MC9300 is one way of many ways that we are helping you make the transition to Android and address the new fulfillment challenges brought on by the e-commerce. This “Modernizing the Warehouse” guide is a fantastic resource to bookmark, as is this “Future of Fulfillment” guide.

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Joe White
Joe White is responsible for the strategy, development and management of Zebra’s entire mobile computing product line, including general purpose and rugged mobile computers that facilitate business-critical applications for nearly every global industry. He holds nine RFID patents.



































































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