Today Apriso announced FlexNet for Android operating systems, a FlexNet application that unlocks visibility into manufacturing operations from the convenience of an Android-enabled mobile device, such as a phone or tablet. I had the opportunity to sit down with John Fishell to get a better perspective on what activity is happening in the marketplace to justify this latest development effort by Apriso’s product development and management teams. Below is a summary of our discussion:
Q. John, can you tell us what the driving forces were behind Apriso’s release of this latest FlexNet for Android devices?
A. Tom, the last time we spoke about this topic in the third quarter of 2011, the focus was really about the need for increased mobility when actually doing maintenance and quality management activities. Workers needed to be “un-tethered” from their desktops for greater movement around the shop floor. Today, agility is still important, but in addition, we are seeing people talking about putting in a $500 tablet at a work station that can do all the features and functionalities of a system that might have previously cost $2,000, with a traditional desktop. Hardware maintenance can be simplified too … if there is a problem, it is often easier to simply discard it, with the lower price point of tablets today.
Q. What about the strong market share Apple has achieved … do you see the same dominance on the manufacturing shop floor?
A. As you know, we released FlexNet for iOS last year. The demand for that product primarily came from early adaptors. What we are seeing today, however, is that some manufacturing applications are being written in Silverlight and Flash, so they won’t run on an Apple device. This decision has forced manufacturers to consider other hardware platforms running Android, such as those provided by Motorola, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba. When Microsoft comes out with a tablet device in the near future, there is definitely a market for them to pursue.
Q. Do you see any durability issues with the expansion of tablet PCs on the shop floor?
A. There has actually been a few announcements around more rugged tablet PC models designed to work in more challenging environments, including retail and warehouse spaces. Motorola announced a rugged tablet in the fourth quarter of 2011; other manufacturers are now following suit. These more rugged devices run on the Android operating system, so it began to make sense for us to expand our mobile capabilities and support Android.
Q. How about using gloves with a touch screen device … will that work?
A. As you know, FlexNet allows user interfaces to be easily designed and configured to meet the varying roles of our users. Those employees wearing globes are simply provided screens with large buttons. Some interesting developments are also now coming available, including “touch screen gloves,” specifically designed to pass through the necessary “touch” to activate a touch screen. This is a capability that was also required by the military, so trust me, this issue has been addressed!
Q. So, it sounds like you are now more of a believer?
A. Yes. I have to admit my first inclination was that this would be a short fad. After all, the tablet is hardly a new device – they have been around for nearly 10 years now. What has changed is the price point. And, today’s advanced application delivery models and social media components are really starting to add a lot of value to manufacturing organizations, so now it is really starting to make a lot more sense.
Q. What about security concerns?
A. Within a manufacturing environment at a plant or in a warehouse, these devices are typically being used in conjunction with a local area network (LAN) connected by Wi-Fi. This way Internet access can be better controlled while keeping a lid on security concerns from the outside. This approach appears to be working fine, so security has not been a constraint.