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21 December, 2014

Dynamic scheduling – little by little gets you there »

Rugged or consumer – the debate hots up »

Apps for everything (including daily checks) »

Brisk mobile investment in prospect, but not in rugged tablets – survey

In a survey by UK-based mobile computing specialist TouchStar of “decision makers and influencers” from a wide range of industries, a quarter of respondents said their organisation was planning a major investment in IT or mobile computing in the next three years, and a further 40 per cent suggested they were at least considering something on these lines.

Among those considering new purchases, the majority said they would be investing in combined hardware and software solutions, TouchStar says. It adds that “a small proportion” claimed to be looking at software only, and under 10 per cent said their purchase would involve hardware only.

Consumer-grade hardware is definitely coming to the fore, according to the survey. No fewer than 82 per cent of participants claimed that they were likely to pilot or invest in such products, including smartphones and tablets. Of these, 28 per cent said that they would also evaluate rugged handheld terminals.  Rugged tablet computers, however, were the form factor least likely to be considered for deployment within these organisations.

Mixed reactions to Amazon’s Fire Phone

Amazon's new Fire phone
Mixed reactions greeted June’s launch of the Amazon Fire Phone – the first smartphone from the internet retailing giant. Most pundits reckoned that the specification looked broadly similar to that of other top-selling phones (notably Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy) without offering anything remarkably different, while the price was attractive (starting at around $200 in the US).

The logic of launching a phone is strong, of course. Amazon already has a massive established customer base to target; it has its own mobile operating system, derived from Google’s Android but heavily customised for the Kindle Fire tablet range; and it has its own online apps marketplace. 

Some analysts have wondered why it took Amazon so long to reach this point. AnalysysMason argues that with under 10 per cent of the world’s tablet computer market in 2013, Amazon needed a wider product base to exploit its existing investment in mobile resource and technology. 

Features of the launch model include a 4.7in high-definition LCD display with a resolution of 1280 by 720 pixels; a 13 megapixel rear-facing camera with autofocus, optical image stabilisation and LED flash; and a 2.1 megapixel front-facing camera. Memory can be 32 or 64 GB, and the operating system, is Fire OS 3.5.0.

The general feeling in the industry is that Amazon’s main objective is to use the phone as a platform to draw customers even more tightly into its retailing infrastructure, using it to sell anything from household goods to streaming media. In the US, some customers qualify for a year’s free use of the Amazon Prime premium delivery service.

It appears that the company will not aim to sell the phone worldwide, but will target specific developed markets such as the US, the UK and Australia, as it has with the Kindle Fire tablet. We had no UK launch date when closing for press, but you can be sure it will be available here before long. 

Will it be a suitable device for business applications? The answer seems to be “why not?” – especially given that with the proliferation of BYOD (bring your own device) strategies, many businesses will find it impossible not to support the Fire Phone if that’s what employees choose.

Masternaut acquired by fuel card giant

Martin Hiscox, Masternaut
Masternaut Group Holdings, which is believed to be Europe’s biggest provider of telematics solutions, has been acquired from Francisco Partners by a joint venture involving FleetCor Technologies, a US-based fuel card specialist, and growth equity investor Summit Partners. It is not known how much the buyers paid.

Francisco Holdings had acquired Cybit, a leading UK-based telematics company, in 2010, and then deepened its involvement by merging it with Masternaut.

According to Masternaut chief executive Martin Hiscox, who stays on in the new regime, Fleetcor’s fuel card and workforce payments products target the same commercial fleet customers that Masternaut serves, yet there is little or no direct overlap. "We look forward to exploring significant cross marketing opportunities that exist between our companies to accelerate the growth of Masternaut," Hiscox says.

FleetCor is a major player in fuel cards, providing customised systems for many of the leading fuel companies. Its UK brands include Keyfuels and The Fuelcard Company.

Masternaut had its origins in France, but a parallel UK business was built up under the vigorous leadership of Martin Port, who left in 2011, and the two business were eventually combined.

The company now says that more than 300,000 assets, vehicles and people are connected to its software-as-a-service solutions in 32 countries, adding that more than 15,000 users interact every hour with its systems, and over 50 million data transactions are processed and configured into 20,000 reports daily.

FleetCor is active in North America, Latin America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Motorola disposals change face of rugged computing market

The mobile computing landscape has changed dramatically following two key developments earlier this year, both of which could have lasting implications for the Motorola brand.

First, Google sold its mobile phone business, Motorola Mobility, to Lenovo – a company that originated in IBM’s hardware business – for a total price of $2.91 billion, having paid over $12 billion for it only three years before.

Google has reportedly retained many of the patents acquired with the business, but evidently decided to bow to massive competitive pressures in the volatile, fashion-led mobile phone business. Google chief executive Larry Page is quoted as saying the move "will enable Google to devote our energy to driving innovation across the Android ecosystem."

Scarcely had the dust settled on that development when Motorola Solutions, the still-independent rugged mobile computing business, announced that it was selling its enterprise division (which includes all its rugged handheld computers and scanners) to Zebra Technologies in a deal worth $3.45 billion.

Remarkably, even after this major disposal, Motorola Solutions remains a giant, employing 16,000 people in the United States and turning over $6 billion. This is because it is retaining operations dealing with government clients, including its iDEN mobile radio business.

Nevertheless, the enterprise wing represents a very big bite for Zebra to swallow. Its turnover of $2.7 billion is well over twice that of Zebra, which posted a turnover of around $1 billion in the year prior to the deal. The acquisition adds around 4,500 employees to Zebra’s 2,500.

Read more ...

No more roaming charges after 2015
Roaming charges for mobile data in the EU are likely to be abolished on 15 December 2015. From then on, users will pay the same for data transfer across European union borders as they do in their own country. This is the outcome of a vote in the European Parliament this spring.
This decision is the culmination of long, hard battle by the EU to curb what were seen as unnecessary and exploitative roaming fees charged by the mobile networks. However, those higher fees will continue to be applied to mobile data use between the EU and non-EU countries.
According to EU sources, progressive reductions in roaming charges since 2009 have already resulted in savings to users of 9.6 billion euros. Or seen from the opposite point of view, they have meant a fall in revenues to the mobile operators of that amount.
While the operators have protested that the change will reduce their income, and hence capacity for investment, the EU argues that an end to the uncertainty will have the effect of unblocking investment, and will enable the operators to develop more efficient cross-border investment plans.
Sleek Mio Android tablet from Varlink

Sleek Android tablet from Varlink

An Android-based rugged tablet computer from Mitac has been added to the range offered by reseller Varlink. The company says it is ideal for field force automation, utilities and emergency services.

The MioWORK L130/135 series has a 10.1in WXGA display with an impressive brightness rating of 600 nits. It features a Cortex-A9 dual-core processor, 1GB RAM and 16GB of internal memory, and has a MicroSD SDHC slot that supports up to 32GB. The operating system is 4.2.2.

Connectivity options include dual-band Wi-Fi for use on 5GHz enterprise networks, Bluetooth 4.0 +EDR and optional integrated 3G mobile links.

Despite its sleek, consumer-style appearance, the device has a dust and water ingress resistance rating of IP67 – one of the highest available – and is drop-resistant from 1.2 metres, bearing MIL-STD-810G certification for robustness.

Battery life is said to be up to eight hours per charge, and the battery is hot-swappable battery - useful for 24-hour shift usage. 

Downton builds on telematics successes

Downton builds on telematics success
Following major savings achieved with telematics solutions, transport and distribution specialist CM Downton is investing further in telematics-based technologies.

The company says it has saved more than £1 million in fuel costs alone since introducing the Microlise’s Fleet Performance telematics solution across its fleet. It also reports a 15 per cent fall in insurance claims.

Whilst Microlise remains a major supplier in the area of the driver-performance management solutions, telematics company TrakM8 is now supplying Downton with its TrakM8 T8 Mini telematics box, along with its TrakM8 Secure asset-tracking solution, designed for unpowered assets such as plant and trailers.

A total of 1,450 units are due to be supplied under a contract running initially for five years.

The T8 Mini is a rugged, lightweight, waterproof telematics box with a dust and water resistance rating of IP67 and a range of input-output options, and can be battery-powered. 

Trakm8 Secure includes the option of remote immobilisation. If an asset is being used in an unauthorised way, users can lock it down outside normal working hours or if is thought to be stolen.

Downton employs around 1,350 staff and operates from ten distribution hubs across the UK. The company runs 600 tractor units and 1,800 trailers.

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