TABLETS ARE THE NEXT BIG TOOL FOR TRUCKING

Tablet computers and smartphones, their smaller technological cousins, are getting a much closer look as highly practical portable communication devices for truck drivers to supplement in-cab communication devices, replace bulkier laptops, or both.

As for smartphones, what started with the BlackBerry is now a market of devices including the iPhone and the wide range of phones operating on the Android platform, all of which are now available from multiple wireless carriers.

Today's tablet computers, starting with the segment-boosting iPad and including its multitude of non-Apple competitors, however, offer a full set of features that make these devices even more attractive than smartphones for many trucking operations.

The main driver for switching to tablets or even smartphones is the advantages they offer over laptops and in-cab computer devices that are not portable. Rich with features, tablets are capable of keeping electronic driver logs, barcode-scanning, signature-capturing and photo taking of documents that are then transmitted from the device via email. Put simply, today's tablets can do most of what laptops can do at a lower acquisition cost.

“If you look at the processing power of a Samsung Galaxy 10.1 tablet, for instance, it has 10 times the computing power of an onboard computer,” advises Christian Schenk, vice president-product marketing for Xata. “Is there life [left] for onboard computers? Yes, but it's short-lived.” He sees the shift to tablets and smartphones, too, being driven by drivers; 86% of whom he says now carry “personal mobility devices.”

“With the growing prevalence of smartphone and tablet use, and the innovative apps that are on the market and under development, we know that a percentage of fleets and their drivers are leveraging the convenience and ease of use of these devices to conduct their business today,” says Norm Ellis, vice president & general manager of transport & logistics for Qualcomm Enterprise Solutions. “We anticipate that both smartphones and tablets will become a staple supplement to in-cab devices due to the versatility, portability and growing functionality of device platforms. According to uShip, an online transport marketplace, 27% of truckers surveyed use mobile apps.”

PeopleNet vice president Rick Ochsendorf says the company's Tablet in-cab/portable PC integrated fleet-management solution, released a year ago, is built around MobileDemand's ruggedized xTabletT7000 PC, which features wireless connectivity and a “sunlight readable” 7-in. touchscreen with on-screen keyboard and stylus.

The Tablet boasts a 120GB hard drive with Windows 7 operating system. Ochsendorf adds that the computer is small, lightweight, and portable yet is extremely durable — “it can be dropped from 5 ft. and not break.” It can be ordered with optional camera, signature-capture capability and bar-code scanner. And the computer is fitted with braces so it may be held with one hand and operated with the other.