#ThrowbackThursday: When the Touch Computer Took Over (Part 2)

The events that led up to Zebra’s millionth-shipped TC5X and other noteworthy industry milestones

A worker uses an early model touch computer to inspect a piece of office equipment.
by Rob Puric
April 04, 2019

Editor’s Note: Last week, Rob gave you a quick rundown of how the consumer-centric PDA (personal digital assistant) stimulated demand for the key-based EDA (enterprise digital assistant) and, eventually, the touch mobile computer in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But the touch computers available today are not the same you were using even five years ago. A few key events fast-tracked further innovation and market evolution. Rob gives you the scoop below:

The Start of Android™ Exploration – and a New Era in Enterprise Mobile Computing

By 2012, Zebra had accelerated its engineering innovation around Android™ touch computers, scanners, tablets and more. We developed our Mobility DNA, a unique software ecosystem that transforms Android, now the world’s most popular consumer OS, into an enterprise-ready force. And from there the growth and popularity of Zebra’s touch computer portfolio exploded.

In fact, we just shipped our one millionth TC51/TC56 earlier this year – a milestone that took less than two years to accomplish. (Yes, the one-millionth device came off the manufacturing line in gold.)

Joe Licari, Director of Product Management, Enterprise Mobile Computing. Joe manages the product management team along with product families for our retail and healthcare mobile computing products including the TC51/52, TC70, TC72, PS20 and other products.

Pictured above is Joe Licari, Director of Product Management, Enterprise Mobile Computing. Joe manages the product management team along with product families for our retail and healthcare mobile computing products including the TC51/52, TC70, TC72, PS20 and other products. ​

Selling one million devices from a single product family is a huge accomplishment, as many competitors may not even ship these many devices from their entire portfolio. So, when asked what propelled the rapid market adoption of the touch computer – and the TC5x specifically – I remind people of the following six factors:

1.    Zebra acquired Motorola Solutions’ Enterprise business (which included the Symbol handheld computer portfolio) in 2014. This gave us unparalleled capabilities to strengthen data capture and mobile computing technologies, including the touch computer. We had the resources to quickly innovate and support enterprise customers’ evolving technology needs. It also allowed us to be more responsive to uncontrollable market influences on our customers’ business, which leads me to the next factor…

2.    It became clear in 2015 that Android was the only viable migration path to a modern and sustainable OS for legacy Windows applications as Microsoft ends its support for Windows™ Mobile (2020) and Windows CE (2021) devices. But customers couldn’t afford to lose the benefits of their touch computers. The unique value proposition of these mobile devices had been well documented for nearly two decades.

3.    Though the TC5x is rugged, it has the pocketable design and feel of a consumer smartphone. The familiar Android user interface touch screen also works when wet, with a gloved hand or stylus. This makes it easy to onboard new users and ensure continuous use in both indoor and outdoor environments. The TC5x’s five-inch sunlight-readable display provides workers the power and flexibility to scan barcodes, capture photos with a 13 MP camera. Even better, the touch computer can capture data from 1D and 2D barcodes that are damaged, dirty or poorly printed without issue.

4.    The TC5x uses less power than competing devices but can run applications up to five times faster – a win-win for productivity, especially in shift environments such as healthcare, retail, transportation and logistics.

5.    The TC5x is priced right, offers the right ergonomics and serves as both a data and voice device (with LAN and WWAN connection options).

6.    Finally, we just released our brand new TC52/TC57, which adds the latest Qualcomm SDM660 platform architecture without compromising the user-appeasing look and feel of the earlier TC5x models. More importantly, the new generation uses the same accessories as the TC5x that customers have been using for a while. This now gives our customers an upgrade path to the latest and greatest touch computer for their enterprise mobile computing needs, while protecting their prior investment.

In short, the touch computer (and TC5x series in particular) makes our customers’ leadership teams and front-line workers happy. The sizeable investment that top retail and T&L brands have made to date, and the willingness of Target, Walgreens, Bealls, Doddle and others to publicly disclose their technology selections, are validation of this. Through a great deal of due-diligence and real-world testing, the business case for the touch computer is more than proven.

Who would have thought we would have come this far, this fast, from when the first PDA hit the market?

Rob Puric
Rob Puric serves as the Senior Director of Global Field Mobility within the Enterprise Mobile Computing group at Zebra Technologies. A career technologist, Mr. Puric has played a central role in the planning, execution and growth of multi-billion-dollar mobile computing portfolios for Symbol Technologies, Motorola and, now, Zebra. He is also a Six Sigma trained and certified Black Belt and a former Aerodynamic Flight Test Engineer.
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