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Motion computing is rough going…

Interview at CeBIT with Catherine Thompson, CEO Motion Computing, Austin Texas.

Cathy has had more than 30 years in executive leadership roles at Dell, Arthur Andersen and Deloitte. She is one of the ‘original eight’ who left Dell in 2001 to form Motion Computing concentrating on just that – tablets that service the specific needs of health and life sciences, retail and distribution, field services, government and construction.

“We developed our first tablet in 2002 way before Apple popularised this format” Cathy says. “I used to spend so much time explaining what a tablet was and now it is becoming the de facto standard for computing” she adds.

Motion’s focus however has not been about the popular consumer tablet craze “These would not last five minutes in most Motion environments” Cathy says.

We chatted for about half an hour and the following are some of Cathy’s paraphrased comments.

Tablets get dropped so military spec models that withstand a fall of 3 to 4 feet are mandatory. A consumer tablet will break, no doubt.

Healthcare tablets like our C5t need to be able to be sterilised – nowhere for germs to hide so that rules out anything other than hermetically sealed units that don’t have any cracks, nooks or crannies that you can’t clean. We also produce a range of accessories like mounting and docking systems, magstripe readers and everything must be medical grade.

Warehouse use tablets may need a handle and accessories to mount them on a forklift or in a vehicle. In fact having the right accessory ecosystem to support the tablet’s use is vital.

Readability under strong direct light is essential in the field and these days that comes from specially co-designed Motion and Corning Gorilla Glass which is more durable than any consumer tablet uses.

Tablets need to be more than a content viewing device. One variant of our CL910 tablet (the closest model that even looks like a consumer tablet but is IP52 and Mil-STD 810G tested) has a magnetic stripe reader and barcode scanner built in as part of the unit. You can’t rely on USB or 3.5mm phone jacks to connect accessories – it would be broken in a minute.

Battery life is always an issue. It must last at least one shift so Motion tablets will always weight a bit more. We are now using Intel Atom dual core in our most popular tablet and that helped. But the other solution is to use Intel i3, 5 and 7 Core processors and have user replaceable batteries like the J3600.

Touch is not always a good interface when you are wearing protective gloves so stylus are common in Motions line.

Operating systems are an interesting issue. We still use Windows 7 and 8 is on its way. We don’t use Android or iOS because a work tablet needs to reflect the work environment and be able to be part of the secure network.

Security is also a huge issue and using Intels vPro protection allows for remote wipes and more if a tablet is lost.

So what is the future?

Cathy is too polite to knock consumer based iOS, Android or even Windows 8 tablets and hybrids but it is clear she sees the tablet factor taking over.

A concern however is that the right tool is used for the job and the plethora of BYOD devices and lack of standards cause issues. “The popularisation of consumer tablets has led to the expectation that these devices can do more than they were designed for. It may initially fix a mobility problem but it won’t last the distance” she says.

She is excited at the advances in Intel Haswell core processors and Intel Atom SOC as that will lead to weight and power savings. She really likes working with Corning on new glass panels and the idea of a flexible OLED screen will solve more issues.

It has been 10 years since the first Motion tablet and everything has become faster, cheaper and better.

Until now I only knew about rugged brands like Panasonics tough books but Motions ecosystem approach was a real eye-opener.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!