I met with Motorola Solutions at Mobile Connect Wednesday last week to hear about a number of new products being announced that day. Retail has always been a strong market for Motorola going back to their acquisition of retail systems leader Symbol Technologies in 2007, which itself had acquired one of the other big retail systems players, Telxon. Both of these firms had industrial-strength tablets well before anyone was using that term. And Motorola of course today sells a tablet designed for retail, the ET1.
The announcements of last week include the android-based, ruggedized MC40 handset and new Mobile Workforce Management software designed for task management and retail-oriented analytics. Both of these are very sophisticated and provide a nice evolution of the capabilities Motorola Solutions is famous for.
But the product that really stood out in my mind is the remarkable new SB1 Smart Badge, a wearable computer that's packaged as an ID badge strung from a lanyard around the user's neck. But this way more than an ID badge - it's a completely programmable information appliance designed for convenience and productivity. It's got 802.11n, an E Ink display (with a color display optional), a bar code scanner, a touch interface, push to talk, and much more. Now retail associates can have access to the information they need to help customers and improve their own productivity as well. The programmable nature of this device is what makes it so attractive - imagine location assistance, a panic button for dicey situations, whatever. And I can see many applications far beyond retail here as well.
In many ways, the SB1 is the natural evolution of what we used to call a Tab Computer perhaps 15 years ago. A number of these appeared in prototype form, from Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and others, and one can argue that many of the concepts pioneered in these early small-screen information appliances have in fact appeared in handsets and related devices today - via, of course, the personal organizer/PDA era. The SB1 reminds us that one size does not fit all when it comes to mobile information technologies in the workplace, and, again, that innovation remains alive and well in the most exciting corner of IT of all.
Mathias is a principal at Farpoint Group, a wireless advisory firm in Ashland, Mass.