Rugged Mobile Market Entering 2015 With a Head of Steam...Sort of

by David Krebs | 04/06/2015

It has been undeniable that the rugged mobile computer market has lost its way over the past several years. Be it the competition from lower-cost consumer devices eroding opportunities or the overall economic malaise, the headwinds facing this sector have been palpable. In 2011, VDC Research published a report suggesting that one-fourth of the rugged market (especially the handheld segment) was at risk from the onslaught of consumer smartphones and tablets. Although the market outcome followed the narrative, the analysis did not fully take into account the market dynamics and the degree to which the market has transformed over the past three years. From sweeping consolidation to massive changes to device design and mobile OS bets, the market has fundamentally changed. 

VDC just published its Q4 2014 and fully year 2014 shipment figures for rugged mobile computing solutions. The highlights from the research include:

  • The overall rugged handheld market was flat in 2014 in comparison to 2013. However, revenue shipments were up 4% in the second half of 2014 and Q4 2014 were up an even more impressive 8.9% over Q4 2013. Although the rebound has been fueled almost entirely by the US market with several large-scale rollouts in the retail and transportation/logistics sectors, we are beginning to see positive momentum in other regional markets. Rugged Android has been a key storyline with major enterprise customers overcoming their tension by placing big bets on these solutions. We anticipate more OS see-sawing in the rugged handheld space, However, with the absence of a viable Microsoft alternative (until Windows 10?), we do expect Android-powered handheld devices to account for more share moving forward.
  • Rugged smartphone shipments grew by 9.8% in 2014 with growing demand in various field mobile segments including construction, utilities, manufacturing and others. Opportunities in public safety are expected to become especially interesting with increasing demand for broadband applications. Specialized solutions with Band 14 support and PTT functionality are starting to show real traction.  
  • The rugged tablet market grew by 17.5% in 2014, recording especially strong growth in Q4 2014. The opportunities were very diverse with strong investments in embedded manufacturing applications and also as a notebook alternative for first responder solutions. A challenge for some of the vendors in the first half of 2015 will come from the closure of a Hydis display factory, which had been providing daylight viewable displays. Navigating this supply chain issue will likely cause some disruption in the first half of the year. 
  • Q4 brought 2014 to a solid close for notebooks with the third consecutive quarter of growth after heavy contractions in 2013. However, with much of the 2014 momentum powered by XP migration initiatives, it will be interesting to see how the market tracks in 2015. So far, we are seeing generally positive indicators for this segment.

Our outlook for rugged mobile solutions through 2015 is generally positive and certainly an improvement over previous years. The market has clearly changed and what will be especially critical for vendors and solution providers that amid the growing noise surrounding enterprise mobility is maintaining focus on the markets and applications where the value proposition of rugged technology can be clearly articulated and supported. 

View the 2017 Enterprise Mobility & Connected Devices Research Outline to learn more.


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