Android OS at a Warehouse Near You?

Mobile computing and RF guns have been an essential tool in real-time warehouses for years. They’re certainly nothing new. However, ARC’s research into the WMS market shows that mobile apps are receiving substantial R&D dollars from a number of WMS vendors. There is widespread development of new mobile warehousing applications designed for Android operating systems for use on cost-effective, consumer-like hardware. These applications are also being developed by third-party consultants, and large WMS end-users to cost-effectively scale their warehouse operations with intuitive mobile interfaces.

A couple years ago I wrote a Logistics Viewpoint post (Fleet Telematics Competition Benefits Customers) that described how modern mobility was essentially a disruptive technology, displacing traditional fleet telematics solutions. I believe that modern consumer-like mobility is now having the same effect on mobile computing in the warehouse. Lower cost per device and ease of use for workers are the primary reasons for using mobile warehouse applications running Android OS on consumer-like devices. Both of these features lead to quicker time to value per warehouse worker. Therefore, the leading use-case is for seasonal workers or other situations where the warehouse needs to scale up operations quickly.

Modern Consumer Mobility in Warehouse

Examples of New Mobile Applications for the Warehouse

  • HighJump, since the merger with Accellos, has placed a primary emphasis on developing its HighJump One platform that features an HTML5 user experience with a mobile layout guide. However, HighJump customers have been developing their own mobile applications with HighJump’s historical development architecture for years. One large HighJump Warehouse Advantage customer in Asia developed warehouse picking and packing applications for Android mobile devices to be used by temporary workers during large seasonal peaks. Lower cost per device, ease of use, and reduced training time are the comparative advantages of this mobility option.
  • Manhattan Associates recently released a new mobile picking application that runs on Android or iOS and is geared toward e-commerce fulfillment that experiences extreme peak season fluctuations that require seasonal workers to support the increased warehouse volumes. The intuitive user interface is designed with the goal of reducing employee training time to get workers productive more quickly. The screen layout incorporates touch responsive areas that are familiar to smart phone users and can pull item images or descriptions to assist in visual identification. And the display can be set to landscape or portrait mode to accommodate the task at hand. The application also integrates to labor management so information such as estimated vs. actual task completion times can be recorded and displayed.
  • Symphony EYC, formerly Aldata, offers a voice picking solution that runs on an Android device and combines with it RF scanning and other traditional data capture mechanisms. Symphony EYC highlights the benefits of using one mobile environment across a company’s warehouse operations and also notes the substantial cost advantage of many devices that currently run Android OS.

Final Word
Many consumer-like devices running Android have a lower price-point than traditional ruggedized mobile computers that typically run Windows. However, many of the ruggedized devices incorporate ruggedized components that last longer, but have a higher upfront cost. Therefore, devices with higher upfront costs may provide more competitive costs over longer time horizons. Also, hardware and communication performance of lower-priced solutions must be reviewed to determine if it meets an organization’s requirements for its given operations.

Have mobile warehouse applications, running on Android OS and lower cost devices, reached a level of functionality that make these options a viable alternative for more than just the temporary peak season workers? And will these capabilities evolve in a way that this alternative becomes a disruptive technology to the traditional warehouse mobility market. What do you think? Feel free to send your comments to the author at creiser@arcweb.com.