Dell Enters the Fully Rugged Tablet Market

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  July 22, 2015

Dell announced the new Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet, the company’s first fully rugged tablet designed for the harshest conditions. The new tablet is the most recent addition to the company’s rugged portfolio that includes the Latitude 12 Rugged Extreme flip-hinge convertible notebook, the Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme notebook and the Latitude 14 Rugged notebook.

Designed specifically for users requiring a tough yet flexible mobile device, the Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet features an 11.6″ Direct-View outdoor-readable HD display with gloved-enabled multi-touch. For peak performance in the most severe temperatures, the Rugged Tablet comes pre-packaged with 4th gen Dell QuadCool thermal management and 5th gen Intel Core M processors. Optional dual hot-swap batteries also provide the Rugged Tablet with all-day (up to 12 hours) battery life.

The Rugged Tablet features solid state storage up to 512GB and connectivity anywhere with 802.11ac Wi-Fi as well as an optional mobile broadband and dedicated GPS. The tablet also supports Dell Data Protection and available Intel vPro and Intel TPM 1.2 security features.

In addition, the tablet features a durable pogo-pin docking interface for modular component expansion and pairs with an extensive accessory ecosystem, including desk dock, vehicle dock and keyboard. The optional full-size keyboard cover for the Rugged Tablet has a customizable RGB backlight and an IP-65 rating to protect against water and dust intrusion. The Dell Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet will be available in late July with prices starting at $1599.00.

The pitch

Dell’s new Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet takes mobile computing into the wild.

Final analysis

Rugged mobile devices inhabit one of the odder corners of IT. At one level, the market is highly specialized, with many vendors focused on building devices for specific applications and use cases – think of the portable signature pads carried by USPS, FedEx and UPS drivers as examples.

Another point is the rugged market’s overall maturity and general stability, meaning that there is less volatility in terms of vendor share. That’s not surprising given the size of many private and public sector customers’ commitment to given devices and platforms. When you’re selling thousands of often pricey items into government agencies or branches of the military, chances are you’ll be around for a while.

But rugged devices are also subject to the same tectonic issues and trends shaking other mobile markets. Continual innovations in components, including microprocessor, memory, storage, battery and display technologies has resulted in a tidal surge in the capabilities and value of rugged solutions.

Catching waves of disruption like this and surfing to success has long been a Dell practice, so the new Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet bodes well for its ambitions. Why so? Let’s consider both the company and the competition.

Dell has been in the rugged market for just under a decade, beginning with the Latitude ATG 620, a semi-rugged laptop that it introduced in 2007. The company followed that same general development strategy until 2013 when it considerably expanded the Latitude Rugged product line. Dell’s current lineup includes two Rugged Extreme laptops (a 14″ laptop and a 12″ convertible with a flip hinge display similar to Dell’s XPS 12) and a general purpose 14″ Rugged notebook.

The Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet occupies something of a middle ground in that it blends common tablet values, including portability and ease of use, with the durability and use in extreme circumstances rugged devices are made for. In addition, users can leverage optional accessories like the desk dock and keyboard for a traditional laptop experience, or the vehicle dock to enjoy the Rugged Tablet as a robust traveling companion.

That said, it would be a mistake to put the Rugged Tablet up against conventional tablets like Apple’s iPad Air 2 or Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. Doing so would be akin to comparing the relative skills of a heavyweight UFC contender and a dainty supermodel. Dell’s Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet is designed not just to be a workhorse but one that can survive and thrive in environments and circumstances that would put conventional tablets deep underground.

So what about the competition? The main vendor in Dell’s sights is Panasonic, whose Toughbook/Toughpad lines have led the company to leadership in rugged products, owning about a third of the overall market. Panasonic’s 10.1-inch Toughpad FZ-G1 is the nearest thing to Dell’s Rugged Tablet, though it is a bit smaller in size and uses a past gen Intel Core i5 processor.

It’s also quite a bit more expensive – upgrading the Toughpad FZ-G1 to 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM pushes the price to over $3,000.00 or nearly twice the cost of a similarly configured Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet.

If this story sounds somewhat familiar, it should. Dell has long favored entering new areas and gathering momentum just as markets are reaching inflection points. That is just the sort of situation that rugged computing is facing today where despite significant technological evolution and lower pricing of core components, many established vendors continue to charge a premium for what are becoming increasingly commoditized products.

Given Dell’s manufacturing experience and the volume discounts it commands by dint of its overall production, it can deliver highly innovative products like the Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet at a fraction of what others might charge. That enables the company, once again, to be a profitable market disruptor while putting competitors in the unenviable position of facing price cuts or customer discontent/migration.

Finally, adding the new Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet to its Latitude line allows Dell to make a legitimate claim of having the industry’s most complete, best rounded lines of mobile business offerings and end-to-end solutions. Rugged laptops and tablets may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for companies in industries like construction, mining and oil exploration, and in use cases, including military operations and emergency first responders, Dell’s new Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet may be just the tool organizations need to get the job done.

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