October 17, 2017

Honeywell picks Android OS for future handhelds

New family of rugged handheld computers for the warehouse will use common hardware through 2025.

By Ben Ames

Honeywell Android handheld computer

Honeywell International Inc. said today it had rolled out a family of mobile computers that rely on Google Inc.'s Android operating system (OS) to power future generations of handhelds for distribution centers, retailers, and transportation and logistics providers.

All the products in this Mobility Edge Platform will use a common set of hardware and software foundations through 2025, allowing Morris Plains, N.J.-based Honeywell to quickly create new versions of devices such as wearable computers, voice-directed technology, tablets, and vehicle-mounted computing units, the company said.

The new platform adds another page to the industrial powerhouse's growing menu of products for retail and supply chain operations. Honeywell has been throwing its weight around in the logistics sector through a series of acquisitions that began with the data-capture equipment supplier Intermec Inc. in 2012 and added material handling automation provider Intelligrated in 2016. The firm has also made some high-profile partnerships, including a deal with Intel Corp. to develop internet of things (IoT) solutions and a partnership with Google and chipmaker Qualcomm Inc.

By choosing the Android OS, Honeywell is revealing that it will back Google, a division of Mountain View, Calif.-based Alphabet Inc., over its software rivals Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. for the future of the software used in rugged handheld computers. Microsoft's Windows OS currently has a huge market share in that sector, but the Redmond, Wash.-based company plans to "sunset" its support of the versions of that software now used in nearly all brands of handheld devices by about 2020.

Microsoft is offering a new mobile OS called Windows 10 IoT to take their place, but the Android platform is already becoming the de facto standard for industrial mobile devices, Honeywell executives said in a webcast launch event held today at a company site in Mannheim, Germany. By committing to Android up front, Honeywell says, it is able to install sufficient processing power and memory in its Mobility Edge products to run any planned version of that OS, ranging from the current Nougat (version 7) to Oreo (version 8) and the future version codenamed "Q."

Building in enough computing power to handle those upgrades can save money for companies that are searching for solutions to logistics-industry pain points, such as adding extra handheld devices for new warehouse locations, training temp workers on complex computers, and choosing the best computers for a labor force that is changing from baby boomers to millennials, Lisa London, vice president of Honeywell's Safety and Productivity Solutions, said in an interview.

"Business are pushing on their information technology (IT) departments to move at a faster pace than ever before, saying 'We need a new application,' or a new device," London said. "So the challenge is how to answer that call without increasing your IT budget five times."

The first member of Honeywell's Mobility Edge family is the Dolphin CT60 handheld computer for transportation, logistics, and retail workers, also launched today. The device features rugged design, extended battery life, and high-performance scanning for industrial productivity applications, Honeywell said.

Handheld computers like the Dolphin CT60 will help enterprise users in pickup and delivery, direct store delivery (DSD), and field-service applications reduce their total cost of ownership (TCO) by relying on common hardware and software components and a consistent form factor until 2025, London said. That design lets businesses avoid the expensive process of re-coding and re-certifying computers every time they buy a new device, she said.

Honeywell will also continue to manufacture handheld computers that run Windows software, but the company expects that market to continue to shrink. "There are obviously still a ton of users on Windows Embedded and Windows Handheld, but that's not going to be available for long, so people are going to have to make a decision," London said. "For those that have already made the decision, we see a very small (number) of customers choosing Windows, and the vast majority are moving to Android."

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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