Motorola Solutions today (10 October) unveiled the ET1 device, a seven-inch touch-screen, Android-powered tablet specifically aimed at enterprises. The move is something of a surprise as the company is best known as a manufacturer of two-way radio terminals, equipment and infrastructure.
Motorola is aiming the tablet at retailers initially. The ET1 is intended to be used 24/7 by multiple users, so the device has been given a durable design to withstand knocks and bumps. Motorola envisages that the ET1 or similar later devices could be used in hospitals, utilities, education and other sectors. The first version is Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth-enabled, but this will be followed with a WAN (wide area network) version.
The tablet is expected to retail for approximately $1,000 per unit for larger deployments. The device is expected to begin shipping worldwide in early January 2012, although Motorola has some beta customers trialling and testing their applications on the device at the moment.
Six year support
Speaking to Wireless at a demonstration session last week, Paul Reed, Mobile Computing EMEA Product Manager, at Motorola Solutions, said: ‘It’s very much an enterprise tool. It is very task driven; we are not trying to compete with consumer tablets. Motorola guarantees to manufacturer the tablet for three years and then support if for a further three years.
‘The idea is that any business choosing to invest in the tablet can rest assured that it will be supported by the manufacturer for six years. The return on investment is pretty fast if you are prepared to use it for six years, so it becomes much more compelling and value for money. It is a very purposeful device designed to meet a need – the need of business.’
Reed added: ‘On top of that, customers can sign up for a 24 hour guarantee service agreement for a monthly fee, which if they buy it now, will last for six years. We guarantee to refurbish the tablet and have it back with the customer in 24 hours. The service will also check the device for any upgrades. The good thing about this is that the customer then knows exactly what the cost of maintaining the device will be over its lifetime.’
A key differentiator between the Motorola tablet and consumer tablets is that it is the only such device that comes with a removable battery. The battery is designed to last for an eight hour shift at an average of 30 minutes of use per hour, or five hours of continuous hi-res video streaming over Wi-Fi.
The idea is that the device must be able to work for a full eight-hour shift or longer. But instead of having to charge it up and lose use of the device, a user can simply swop the battery. The tablet comes with a battery swap mode to retain RAM data for up to 15 minutes, thereby saving whatever the user was doing at the time the battery was changed. The session resumes where they left off without any need to reboot, although if desired it can demand user re-authentication.
Reed said that Motorola sees the device helping in several areas of retailing. It can be used as a manager electronic dashboard for checking emails, staff rosters and inventory. It can be used as a mobile point of sale device or for assisted selling - bringing up technical specs to show a customer, for example. It can also be used to send out monthly catalogues, merchandising information, shop layouts and price changes to branches or travelling sales reps.
Reed added: ‘One customer is thinking of issuing them to first class passengers as an entertainment device. They can change the battery if it runs down, so they don’t have to remove it half way through the journey to put it on charge.’
The tablet has been designed to withstand a fair degree of punishment and is therefore considerably more robust than consumer devices. The Gorilla glass screen is 30% thicker than glass used on consumer tablets. Motorola has also separated the Gorilla glass from the touchscreen layer to give added protection.
The device has a 1.2m drop specification and it is ingress protection rated to IP54. The screen is slightly recessed to provide further protection. It also allows the device to be placed face down without any impact on the screen. Enhanced bezels are also in development to provide still more protection if required.
The company describes the design as ‘elegant enterprise’. The form factor has wider edges in landscape to allow customers to hold it easily without putting their fingers on the touchscreen. It also allows users to hold it one-handed more easily.
It has two cameras (including video conferencing capability). The 8-megapixel rear-facing camera, which can be used to read and decode barcodes, or allow users to photograph their work and upload it to prove it has been done.
The device runs on Android 2.3.4. Reed said: ‘We made a strategic decision to use this OS as it is solid, stable and well tested and we can get into the detail of it and add our customisation. At a later stage we will jump to Ice Cream Sandwich and bypass Android 3 entirely, as it is a more consumer driven OS.’
Motorola has customised the Android OS at the basic operating level, rather than attempting an overlay to provide an enterprise ready hardened version of Android. The company can remotely update the software system over the air (providing the battery level is over 50%) over the lifetime of the device.
As well as the touchscreen, the device has the traditional three Android buttons – home, back and menu - at bottom right. Motorola has added three buttons labelled P1-P3 on the bottom left, which can customised by a user to bring up their most used applications such as email, store metrics and staff rosters, for example.
Reed said that while the device can take standard Android apps, it is not preloading Android Marketplace. ‘It is an enterprise device and we don’t expect managers will want staff to be downloading Angry Birds on what is a work device.’
Additional features and accessories
Other features include an HTMI port so the device can connect to a larger screen for use as a training device or for presentations to share information with a bigger audience. It also has a wired headset push to talk capability, although a Bluetooth headset can also be used. The device has the ability to incorporate Bluetooth-connected handheld bar-code scanners, mobile payment readers and mobile printers. Other extras include the ability to add a micro SD card, 1GB of Flash and 4GB of RAM upgradable to 32GB.
Motorola is working on developing a range of accessories for the tablet including: spare batteries; a rugged USB converter, which connects to a port in the underside of the device; a single dock cradle (which can connect to a Bluetooth keyboard); a four-slot device charger; and a four-slot battery-only charger.
A charging rack with single power feed has also been developed, which can charge multiple devices and batteries. It fits into a standard 19-inch rack. The devices have an LED light on the side which allows users to see at a glance if a device isn’t fully charged.
A detachable handstrap is also in the works, which attaches to the back of the tablet. The handstrap is rotational so it makes the tablet more comfortable to hold. Holding a tablet in landscape mode tends to twist the wrist, which can cause medical problems with prolonged use – the rotational strap means users can rotate the device 45 degrees and hold it in one hand at a comfortable angle. The battery can be removed and the device put in a charging cradle without having to remove the handstrap.
Motorola can also provide customised bezels, so if the device is being used as a customer-facing tool, it can be branded with the company’s logo and come in different colours.