A retail store associate uses the Zebra Workforce Connect PTT solution and his Zebra ET4x rugged tablet to help a customer find a different size shoe
By Harsh Joshi | October 19, 2022

The Real Purpose of “Purpose-Built” Tablets is to Save – and Make – You More Money

Rugged enterprise tablets like the Zebra ET40 and ET45 are both budget friendly and bottom-line boosters, despite what consumer device manufacturers want you to believe.

Your workers need purpose-built mobile devices if your business is going to have a chance at succeeding. Or should I say, they need devices that are purpose built for the specific job(s) they must do every day. So, why am I seeing so many consumer tablets in the hands of front-line workers (while they’re on the clock)? The only things that consumer tablets are purpose built for are gaming, social media and video streaming. They have never been intended to serve as the command center for high-pressure, fast-paced 24/7 business operations. 

Honestly, it’s a fascinating trend – and one that I wish would end quickly for the sake of businesses’ success, IT managers’ relief, front-line workers’ sanity and customers’ satisfaction. 

The longer that business leaders try to fit a square peg in a round hole, the longer it will take to eradicate the worker mistakes and downtime that lead to business losses and service failures. This resistance to purpose-built devices doesn’t even have a good financial justification when we just scratch the surface.

VDC Research analysts have confirmed time and again that the total cost of ownership (TCO) for consumer tablets is nearly double that of enterprise tablets. They’ve also demonstrated that the total benefits of ownership (TBO) are far lower with consumer tablets. Productivity losses and IT support costs are 2.5 times higher with consumer tablets. Those numbers may be even more extreme when you compare the TCO and TBO of the new Zebra ET40 and ET45 enterprise rugged tablets against consumer tablets as the ET4x tablets are about half the cost of the average enterprise rugged tablet. That makes it hard to argue that consumer devices are better for your budget. 

Plus, your workers aren’t going to stick around if they can’t do their job or do it well because they’re given the wrong technology tools for their jobs or those tools constantly fail. And we know the cost of recruiting new workers is through the roof right now – far higher than it would probably cost you to give your current workers what they want, which is technology that makes their jobs easier and makes them look good to their customers and bosses. If they can’t help customers find what they need, then customers will lose their patience, workers will get frustrated and all around satisfaction with your company will be drop.

So, I strongly encourage you to consider the purpose of your mobility solutions and then find tablets that were built for that purpose. It’s the only way to truly make everyone happy – including your front-line workers, your IT team, your boss, and your customers. 

What Makes a “Purpose-Built Tablet” So Special?

Purpose-built enterprise tablets like the Zebra ET40 and ET45 don’t bog anyone down with the extra work that results from trying to manage or remove excess bloatware, manage devices without being able to “see” them. In fact, the only thing they’re pre-loaded with is the enterprise software IT teams, operations managers, or technology partners need to remotely: 

  • stage a handful (or thousands) of tablets in seconds. 

  • transmit barcode data to apps — without any programming. 

  • control which GMS services and apps are available to front-line workers, third-party device managers and other stakeholders.

  • easily test each tablet’s main systems with the press of a button and collect targeted diagnostics. (Actually, this is something device users can do themselves with Zebra tablets.)

  • automatically enable enterprise mobility management (EMM) support for every feature in your tablet for easy device management. 

  • boost device security.

  • automatically update the Android™ operating system (OS) and add both hardware and software features as needed. 

  • boost workforce productivity.

This software, which we offer as part of the Mobility DNA Professional toolset, is part of Zebra DNA and exclusive to Zebra Android™ tablets. No consumer tablet on the market today offers anything comparable. In fact, I don’t think these capabilities could be developed for consumer tablets, even if there was a desire to, because consumer device manufacturers do not have the rich history and experience of catering to enterprise customers for 50+ years like Zebra does. So, when you buy a consumer tablet for front-line workers, you’re automatically putting those workers – and your entire business – at a disadvantage. Front-line workers may not be the ones managing device health, but they’ll be the ones hurting when it fails. And if you’re IT or your EMM provider can’t anticipate or resolve issues because they can’t see each device’s status or easily push OS, security, software or feature updates, a device will fail.

Similarly, consumer tablets don’t come equipped with the integrated barcode scanners or payment processing mechanisms needed for mobile point-of-sale (POS) applications like the ET4x tablets do. Nor will you be able to find purpose-built accessories with consumer tablets, such as the presentation stand designed to transform the tablet into a kiosk or POS solution anytime, anywhere – accessories which you can buy for tablets like the ET40 and ET45 today. With consumer-grade tablets, you will have to piece together a bare working solution from multiple third parties, none of which will ever be purpose built. Many times, they are not because consumer tablets are meant for consumer applications, not business ones. 

Something else to keep in mind: it’s going to be a lot easier to give delivery drivers, retail associates, or restaurant workers the option to use two-way radios, high-quality integrated front cameras or secure messaging for a highly unified push-to-talk or secure messaging communications experience with co-workers and customers if you give them enterprise tablets. That’s because the 5G and Wi-Fi 6 Android™ ET4x tablets are purpose built for the tasks your front-line workers need to complete while they’re on the clock – not on their own time. 

My colleague Bruce Willins recently shared an analogy that makes a lot of sense: giving your workers a consumer tablet to use on the front lines or in the field is like giving them a Ferrari to drive across the desert. It’s not going to be a great experience for them or the people charged with maintaining (or repairing) the tablet or car. 

There’s a purpose for everything. If you respect and accept that, you will find life – and work – will be a lot easier and a lot less expensive. These stats from VDC Research make that clear:

Productivity losses and IT support costs are 2.5 times higher with consumer tablets, mainly because those tablets are being forced to do a job they just aren’t cut out to do. As a result, any company that gives front-line workers consumer tablets will ultimately pay a large price. The total cost of ownership (TCO) of consumer tablets is 2x the TCO of the right enterprise rugged tablet over a five-year period. 

In Other Words 

Enterprise tablets that are purpose built for specific front-line workers and applications will always end up being the better investment, even if the upfront cost is a bit higher than consumer tablets. That’s something your shareholders and business leaders will understand when they see productivity and efficiency improvements directly resulting from enterprise tablet utilization. Plus, if you’re constantly having to justify tablet churn, maintenance costs or worker/operational downtime due to failing devices, someone is going to question why you aren’t going with devices that have repeatedly proven to both save and help generate money for businesses large and small. At a certain point, “cheap” will cost you more than “quality.” 

So, don’t be afraid to challenge your trusted technology advisor as well as tablet solution engineers to articulate the purpose and prove the capabilities of different tablet options in real-world settings. And know that challenging the status quo – that sticking with or switching to enterprise devices amidst a consumerization of business technology – will give your team a competitive edge. While everyone else is busy trying to fix their operational issues stemming from insufficiently equipped front-line workers, your front-line workers will be busy serving customers who may very well become loyal to your business thanks to your fast service, knowledgeable associates and ability to consistently deliver what they want on time, without issue. 

A Final Piece of Advice: Don’t Forget About the Future 

When thinking about the purpose of a technology solution, especially a tablet-based solution, remember that its purpose likely isn’t short-lived. Be sure that whatever platform you choose today can sustain performance levels as more software is loaded on, new features are added, additional peripherals are plugged in, and workers need to work longer or faster. You may benefit from developing two requirements lists: one that satisfies your current needs and one that sets the baseline for a future-scalable solution. Both will likely have the same components:

  • Software management/lifecycle updates (to include security and OS updates)

  • Device management/feature expansion capabilities

  • Battery life/performance/management 

  • Wireless connectivity (cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth)

  • Communications (voice, video and messaging options)

  • Peripheral/other device interoperability (for scanning, printing, voice applications)

  • Mounting/docking systems

However, the value of each may fluctuate over time. For example, OS updates will be needed for several years after purchase, and it will be important that you can manage those easily. If you choose a Zebra tablet, you’ll be able to use LifeGuard to pick and choose the updates and manage the full process. 

Additionally, it’s likely that simultaneous software, system or process updates may be warranted as you transition to new tablets, and change management will certainly be required for end-users, IT and other stakeholders. So, don’t try to make a device decision in a silo. Choosing a tablet for the front-line requires alignment among various stakeholders. Use the data the industry experts have provided, some of which I’ve provided in this blog post, to make a case for enterprise devices to those who think consumer devices are sufficient. 

Work with a technology provider that specializes in building solutions for business and, specifically, your line of business. Consult with people who know what front-line workers need and want – and IT, and operations managers – because they’ve either been in those roles before or appreciate the role of technology in these jobs. If they believe a tablet like the Zebra ET40 or ET45 is best for your business, they’ll show (not just tell) you exactly why they feel that way. If they think there’s a tablet better suited for a particular environment or application, they’ll tell you that too. Because their purpose is to make sure you are only spending money on technology that is purpose built for the specific workers that you’re trying to help or the workflows you’re trying to improve. 


Did You Know?

Zebra has several resources available to help you make the right decision for your business, including expert commentaries that share stories of real-world successes and failures:

Energy and Utilities, Healthcare, Warehouse and Distribution, Transportation and Logistics, Retail, Field Operations, Hospitality,
Harsh Joshi
Harsh Joshi

Harsh Joshi has over 15 years of experience developing, defining, and managing technology products. In his current role at Zebra, he is a Principal Product Manager, responsible for multiple rugged tablet platforms..

Previously, Harsh was a product manager for the IoT portfolio and a pricing manager for the enterprise client business at Dell. He has also developed networking products at Cisco Systems.

Harsh holds a Bachelor of Engineering from the Visvesvaraya Technological University and an MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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