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How Angry Birds Boosts the ROI of Enterprise Mobility (and Spells the Doom of Ruggedized Devices)

Games: a destroyer of productivity, an enabler for procrastinating employees, right? Not always.

Games: a destroyer of productivity, an enabler for procrastinating employees, right? Not always. In fact, letting - nay, encouraging - your workers to install and play games like Angry Birds can actually boost your mobile deployment's ROI.

That's what Coca-Cola Bottling Co. did when it rolled out iPads to its salespeople, according to CIO Onyeka Nchege.

"We encouraged them to put a game or two on there, to play Angry Birds," he said during a presentation at the Enterprise Mobility Exchange in Las Vegas on Wednesday morning.

The result? Employees "take care of them [the iPads] because they think 'I like what I got,'" he said.

Not only that, but Angry Birds has helped cut Coca-Cola's training costs for the iPad because it's been a "teaching tool for how to manipulate objects on the screen," according to John Leabeater, lead mobile analyst for Coca-Cola.

Now, before you start dismissing this as soft-as-tofu logic that just randomly happened to work at Coca-Cola, other experts at this small conference held at the Venetian chimed in in agreement.

Kevin Benedict, an independent mobile analyst who served as moderator at the Exchange, just returned from visiting a company in Australia that employs 700 service technicians. When the company used devices ostensibly built to repeated drops and falls, they would still "break like crazy," according to Benedict. But since switching to iPads, only 2 out of 700 have broken in the first year, simply because workers like the iPads and treat them with TLC.

"The way iPads and other consumer mobile devices are being treated by employees is very different" from ruggedized devices, said VDC Research analyst David Krebs. And even if they break, they can be replaced "like disposable razors," said Yankee Group analyst Eugene Signorini. He believes that the refresh cycle for ruggedized mobile devices of 5-7 years will likely shrink to just 2 years with less-expensive consumer devices like the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire.

Indeed, the consensus among speakers at the Wednesday morning session at the Exchange conference - an invite-only gathering of 150 CIOs and mobility managers - was that ruggedized devices were in huge trouble.

That's significant because the Exchange conference has traditionally catered to companies in blue-collar industries deploying rugged mobile devices for harsh environments. Think utility engineers carrying ugly Windows Mobile-based gear.

But you're already seeing reports that the U.S. Army plans to switch to Android and iOS devices.

And soon, you'll see delivery drivers and repairmen wielding iPads or Android tablets in protective sleeves running slick apps.

"The rugged device makers have got to wake up," said VDC's Krebs, who is probably the market's leading watcher of the rugged device and field service market. "Not to be too aggressive, but nobody wants to be the next RIM in the room."

That doesn't mean bringing Angry Birds to the handheld scanner wielded by a warehouse worker. But it does mean that the user interfaces and capabilities of the apps and devices used by non-office workers need to be improved so they don't lag glaringly behind their consumer counterparts.

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