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RFID Gets a Bit of Consumerization via Alien Technology’s iAlien App

The concept of the “consumerization of IT” generally refers to the increasingly common dynamic whereby consumer grade devices—from various perspectives including form factor, features, and software, just to name several—play a highly influential role in guiding enterprise IT development and adoption strategies. Consider the case of smartphones and tablets. These are two key device categories driving this trend as of late—not just in the sense that enterprises are increasingly using consumer-grade smartphones/tablets for applications where rugged/semi-rugged enterprise-grade devices would previously have been the only choice—but also from the vantage point of their sphere of influence. For example, witness the numerous enterprise-grade device manufacturers that have integrated features—such as touch screens and simple, highly intuitive GUIs—whose popularity can be traced to consumer-devices.

Compared to other enterprise IT markets, such as mobile devices, customer engagement solutions and barcode, consumerization has had a relatively limited impact on traditional RFID technology. Still, slowly but surely, this trend is influencing the development of (and enterprise investment in) RFID solutions, especially passive UHF.

The latest manifestation of this trend in RFID emerged from a partnership between Alien Technology, a leading passive UHF supplier, and Turkish RFID company Teknopalas. The two companies cooperated to develop iAlien, an iOS application that enables users to manage RFID readers and view reading activity via an Apple iPhone or iPad. The app is compatible with Alien’s ALR 9900+ reader and enables the aforementioned Apple devices to view interrogation activity, monitor reader and antenna status, change reader settings and passwords, and write data to tags. While the app is only available to iOS device users at present, that will soon change. In September 2012, the companies plan to introduce a version of iAlien for Android devices as well.

We think consumerization has had little effect on RFID largely because it is often deployed in harsh environments—such as freight yards, manufacturing floors and distribution centers—where rugged, commercial-grade devices are a non-negotiable requirement. While the need for ruggedization is not likely to change in these application environments, we believe yard supervisors and floor/warehouse managers will leverage the iAlien app on their personal devices for remotely monitoring their enterprise's RFID “vital signs” when they are off-site.

Furthermore, RFID is gaining traction with Tier 1 retailers—and these same enterprises are increasingly leveraging consumer-grade devices for customer service, mobile POS and inventory applications. We expect the iAlien app will be well-received by retailers already using consumer-grade devices, as layering RFID reader management/monitoring capability on top of existing functionality will further increase the utility and ROI their mobile device investment delivers. 

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