Zebra upgrades its mid-range mobile computers

These machines, targeted mainly at standard retail outlets, have met with a strong initial response, selling more units before launch than other Zebra phones typically sell in 3-5 months.


The Zebra TC 51/TC 56

Zebra Technologies has announced a refresh of its mid-range mobile computer family. The TC 5 series, consisting of the TC51 and TC56, are Android machines which blend consumer design features with ruggedness.

Zebra’s mobile computer line came in its entirety from the acquisition a year ago of the Motorola Enterprise Solutions business, which consisted of computers, scanners and wireless.

“It’s been the best thing that could have happened to the business,” said Mike Petersen, Head of Global Solutions Marketing, at Zebra Technologies. “It makes us a much stronger pure play in how we serve our customers, although we did sell the wireless business to Extreme Networks a month ago, because it wasn’t a great fit for us.”

In Zebra’s nomenclature around mobile computing, TC refers to touch. The 5 refers to a mid-line product, while the second digit refers to the generation.

“What’s interesting abut this product is that historically, this area was dominated by Microsoft with CE and Windows Embedded handhelds,” Petersen said. “They had a 98 per cent market share at one point. But those operating systems are being end-of-lifed at the end of the decade. Many organizations will want their devices to last longer than that. So we made a decision three years ago to leverage Android, and now 60 per cent of our share is Android. We are not walking away from Microsoft. But for a big chunk of customers out there, Android makes a lot of sense. It’s now 82 per cent of the global market. What’s exciting about that is that when you have an OS with that much volume, it tends to become highly refined.”

The TC 56 is the next generation of the TC 55, while the TC 51 will eventually replace the MC 40. The systems are basically the same, except that the TC 51 is a Wi-Fi model while the TC 56 is cellular.  The TC 5 series runs the Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) operating system, and features a 1.8 GHz hexa-core 64-bit processor. It features 802.11ac/r/k Wi-Fi connectivity for superior roaming capability, and 4G LTE WWAN.

“They have a built-in scanner, and are rugged enough to survive a five foot drop,” Petersen said. “The batteries last 2-3 times that of the average smartphone, and are hot swappable. The lean, fast processing system is both fast and energy efficient.” Zebra says it helps enterprise apps run up to five times faster while consuming 15 per cent less power than other devices running on quad core platforms.

“These are also supported by our Android ecosystem – Mobility DNA,” Petersen added. “This suite of application security and development tools has a security element to bring Android up to fully hardened commercial grade. It came from a significant strategic investment we made here.”

Petersen said the sweet spot for these devices is mainstream retailers, typically in a carpeted space.

“Our TC 7 series is more rugged, but it’s too big for most associates to carry around,” Petersen said. “That larger model is more suited for specialty retailers like Home Depot, which is a more rugged environment, where associates are climbing up tall ladders and around a lot of heavy tools. We think the TC 5 is a good fit for about 90 per cent of retail stores.”

Petersen said that the early response has been fantastic.

“The market has been reacting very strongly,” he said. “We think this will become a default product in the space. We sold more volume even before we formally launched the product, than we do with most products in 3-5 months. We have had wins with major North American and European retailers, who are purchasing them to replace consumer-grade products.”

About 80 per cent of Zebra’s business goes through the channel, and they have around 2000 partners around the world. Between 70 and 80 per cent of these sell mobile computers.

The TC5 series is available now.

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