Motorola Unveils ES400 Handset Aimed At Mobile Workers

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Motorola ES400 Smartphone

Motorola ES400

Taking a cue from the popularity of smartphones with business users, Motorola on Thursday introduced its smallest and lightest rugged handheld computer, the ES400 Enterprise Digital Assistant (EDA).

“The new ES400 EDA combines the best features of mobility, communications and task functionality without compromising performance or design -- offering mobile workforces the ability to take action and capture information with a single click -- in front of the customer where it counts most,” said Gene Delaney, president of Motorola’s Enterprise Mobility Solutions division, in a statement.

Motorola, headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., will make the Windows Mobile 6.5-powered ES400 available to enterprises later this year through Sprint as well as its own direct sales team and channel partners. The EDA is targeted at field service and sales workers as well as a host of verticals including health care, retail and manufacturing, the company said.

Pricing for the ES400 was not immediately available.

The handset is a departure from the most recent Motorola EDA that is currently available, the 3.5G MC75A. That unit has a very rugged look, 3.5-inch display and an external WWAN antenna. The new ES400, by contrast, has the sleek look of a smartphone, a smaller, 3-inch touch-enabled display, and no external antenna.

The ES400 features Motorola’s MEUI interface, which provides one-touch access to applications, a camera application, device management tabs designed to make setting adjustment simple, and more. The EDA also has what Motorola calls a single-touch barcode scanner that works through the unit’s camera, though one rival rugged handset maker was already taking potshots at that feature on Thursday.

Intermec, maker of rugged handheld computers like the CN50 mobile computer, has its own smaller and lighter handset that it plans to release in the fall of this year, according to Jon Rasmussen, director of marketing at the Everett, Wash.-based manufacturer.

Rasmussen said that for most field workers who frequently use the feature on their handsets, a software-driven barcode scanning capability couldn’t replace the purpose-built barcode scanner Intermec builds into its devices. He also claimed that the ES400 wasn’t rugged enough to handle the drops and spills associated with field work.

Motorola said Thursday that the ES400 was durable enough “to withstand dust, drops and bumps occurring every business day” and meets MIL-STD 810G drop specifications. Intermec’s upcoming handheld will be even more rugged, according to Rasmussen.

“You’ve got to make sure it’s going to survive usage, that it’s going to get dropped more often than you might think. In bad weather, the unit must be sealed and be able to handle the environment,” he said.

But Rasmussen also admitted that there was increasing demand from mobile workers for more smartphone-like devices even if some users were finding them inadequate in the field.

“We are seeing smartphones starting to sell into that space, but based on customer feedback, those devices aren’t rugged enough to meet use cases,” he said.

The market for rugged handhelds was worth $1.9 billion in 2009 and is poised to grow to $2.9 billion in 2014, according to VDC Research analyst David Krebs.

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