by Pat Nolan | 11/20/2019
Police officers in the field have a wide and critical range of mobile computing needs. Officers’ traditional mobile computing setup – a fixed, rugged in-vehicle laptop mounted on a swing arm – is not without its limitations as it relates to those needs. Although this setup has proven to be reliable, durable and secure, it is a space-consuming one that also confines an officer’s highly secure “mobile” computing abilities to his or her police vehicle cockpit. Given that, one of the most exciting shifts in police mobility mindsets in recent decades comes with the growing popularity of Samsung DeX in police fleets.
Samsung DeX is an advanced, full ecosystem phone mirroring solution. It lets an officer access their secure, personal computing environment through a Samsung device, whether it be in their hand as a smartphone/tablet or docked with a keyboard for a desktop-like experience in-vehicle or at the station. Officers have long used smartphones alongside – but separately from and lacking the full functionality of – their in-vehicle mobile computing terminals. Samsung DeX, however, offers extensive and unified computing capabilities to facilitate a truly mobile 21st century police officer.
The technology’s public safety footprint is relatively new and largely remains in the pilot phase across a number of early adopting police departments. Chicago PD’s 11th District represents one of the most notable DeX trials, and they only just began to incrementally roll out the solution this August. Still, a key public safety stakeholder explains that DeX had a lot of exposure at the 2019 IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police) Conference – as well as many other industry shows – and has gained a lot of momentum throughout the year.
Samsung’s leading business case for DeX, referred to as DeX in Vehicle for its public safety applications, is that it enables officers to utilize a single device to engage with their CAD platform, perform reporting tasks, monitor situational awareness data and records photos, videos and other data in their highly mobile day-to-day workflows.
Over the years, cabin space in go-to police vehicle models has seemingly shrank (ignoring a shift to SUVs poised to counter this), most recently from the Dodge Charger to the Dodge Interceptor. At the same time, these critical work environments have become ever more inundated with equipment and technological tools. Officer safety drives much of the innovation that takes place in these vehicles and mobile computing setups are no exception. Accordingly, the traditional mounted laptop configuration, which takes up some or much of the passenger seat, has called for some change.
With a DeX setup, as well as with other phone mirroring and tablet configurations, everything can instead be mounted on the center dashboard. It is critical to leave the passenger seat and seat-level space in the vehicle’s cabin open – under fire on the driver side, an officer must be able to easily exit his or her vehicle on the passenger side. This subtle difference in mobility mounting is therefore quite alluring for the sake of officer safety.
Catering to officer comfort is also important; the squeezed patrol vehicle cabin is no longer where they want to spend time completing reports. Whether it be at a public space such as a café or restaurant, or in a report finishing room at their station, officers increasingly want to perform this job function elsewhere. The ability to seamlessly remove and maintain their secure, personalized computing environment from its in-vehicle dock is necessary to do this safely and effectively. It is worth noting that although much reporting can be automated via click-through and checkbox functionalities for smartphone and tablet usability, keyboards are still critical for detail-rich incident reporting and other officer computing tasks. Not every on-the-go workspace is ideal for every mobile computing need, but flexibility is key.
Another factor that creates more room for Samsung DeX to take off in police fleets is the need to drive down costs. A 2017 VDC Research report, Next Generation Public Safety, found that budget constraints were the greatest operational challenge to public safety organizations in general and cost was the single most limiting factor in realizing the full potential of mobile data services specifically. Likewise, interviews with many public safety decision makers for VDC’s upcoming The Future of Police Fleet Computing report confirm this pressure point persists today.
Some have expressed concerns in these interviews that despite an interest in removing devices from patrol vehicles, to do so may involve extra costs: a 2-factor authentication solution and secure Multimedia Messaging Services to comply with CJIS standards, as well as additional means of connectivity once they are off the vehicle’s communications hub. Another cost-related deterrent is the potential need to replace an existing legacy CAD application with a new, DeX-compatible solution. There are many CAD platforms that work on the Android OS and DeX specifically, but this will no doubt be an issue for many police departments. Still, Samsung’s positioning for DeX is that the entire setup, which includes the mounting solution, connectivity and defense-grade mobile data security (via Samsung Knox), is cheaper than the rugged laptop deployments that police departments have historically invested in.
It is true that DeX-ready Samsung devices have much lower price points than the average rugged police fleet laptop. The duality of that fact is that the consumer-grade cost is a competitive advantage while the durability factor is a hurdle to overcome. Samsung’s longstanding DeX-compatible portfolio includes the Galaxy S8, S9 and Note8 smartphones that range from around $500 to $900 compared to the thousands of dollars that a typical rugged laptop costs. Yet these are consumer devices at heart, and having to consistently replace such units that have failed or broken in an officer’s active day-to-day can quickly negate the cost benefit.
Likely to address this concern, Samsung recently released the ruggedized Galaxy Tab Active Pro and expedited it into the DeX lineup. Given historic budgetary pressures and restraint it is quite possible that police departments will look past durability uncertainties, at least for pilot deployments and especially with the availability of rugged smartphone cases and emerging purpose-built devices such as the Active Pro. Nonetheless, Samsung will have to address related concerns head-on. Fortunately, as one public safety stakeholder explains, officers tend to treat these devices with the care and caution they would a personal one since the dynamic of always having the device on them evokes that relationship.
In Next Generation Public Safety, respondents claimed that their officers were most commonly equipped with laptops to support daily workflows in 2017, and that computing devices were most commonly removed from the vehicle only once per shift. They also predicted that over the next 3 to 5 years, their officers would instead most commonly use smartphones to support daily workflows. As that prediction seemingly becomes reality, and as the need to always have truly mobile computing power outpaces the need for once-per-shift mobile computing power, DeX is well-positioned to meet demand. Still, long-term, large-scale deployments are needed to verify feasibility, usability and reliability. In the meantime, traditional rugged laptop deployments and in-vehicle police mobility setups remain the status quo but are not without innovations and updates in their own right.
To learn more, check out our new report The Future of Police Fleet Computing.