Zebra Technologies Corp. today launched a new line of handheld mobile computers for retail and field delivery applications that use a touchscreen interface to appeal to younger workers performing omnichannel fulfillment.
The TC5 series replaces Zebra's MC40 line and is intended for indoor and mobile retail use, the company said. Warehouse and material handling applications would continue to use the company's more rugged TC8000 or MC9200 lines.
Specific models in the new series include the TC51 for indoor retail jobs communicating over a local WiFi network and the TC56 for field service jobs such a delivery van or maintenance and repair work, using cellular data networks.
The combination of a familiar user interface and rugged hardware could bring improved computing power to retail workers on the move, Michael Petersen, Zebra's head of global solutions marketing, said in a call. "The retail environment is changing, and omnichannel is a huge challenge and opportunity," said Petersen. "Your retail store, which was previously a liability, could become an asset because it's closer to the customer than the online store can be. But you need mobile computing to unlock that potential value."
The TC5 line is intended to be a general retail computer, not a specialized tool. Instead of trying to maximize any single performance point, Zebra engineers designed the TC5 platform with a balance of features like speed, size, cost, and battery endurance, Petersen said.
"It does have a bigger screen than its predecessor, but everybody wants a 42-inch screen that you can fold up and put in your pocket, and unfortunately you just can't do that," he said. Instead, Zebra build the line with a 5-inch screen, a replaceable battery, a commercial-grade bar-code scanner, and a touchscreen interface similar to consumer smartphones, all packed in a ruggedized case built to withstand workplace beatings such as accidental drops into water or onto concrete.
The TC5 line also shows that Zebra is continuing its transition away from Microsoft's Windows software to Google's Android platform. Zebra now ships about 60 percent of its computers running Android, with the remainder using Microsoft's Windows Mobile or Windows CE platforms, Petersen said. And that proportion will continue to favor Android in coming years, as Microsoft follows through on its plans to phase out its Mobile OS by about 2020.
Under the hood, the TC5 line runs the Android 6.0 (also known as "Marshmallow") operating system, combined with Zebra's Mobility DNA suite of application security, development tools, and mobile end-user apps. "The TC5 is based on the Android operating system, which is where all our customers want to go," Petersen said. "Android has become the de facto standard for smartphone and also ruggedized computers."