Support for Windows Embedded CE 6.0 just ended on June 10, 2018, and Window Embedded Handheld 8.1 will end on June 9, 2019, followed by Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 on January 14, 2020. DevPro Journal asked James Pemberton, director of global ISV and developer strategy for Zebra Technologies, to provide information on the impact this EOS is having on the industry and the opportunities it is creating for ISVs.
Can you briefly describe the situation Windows Embedded and Windows CE End of Support is creating and the size of the market that will need to transition to a new OS?
James Pemberton, director of global ISV and developer strategy, Zebra Technology: Windows Embedded and Windows CE were the dominant operating systems in the enterprise market for many years, apart from a relatively brief period in which Palm OS was also present. Given that enterprise-class mobile computers are built to last for many years, that simply means there is a huge install base of devices out there. According to VDC, it is estimated that there were 16 million rugged handheld PDAs sold between 2012 and 2016 worldwide.
What are the primary challenges transitioning to a new OS will create for manufacturers, warehouses, and field service?
Pemberton: With the end of extended support by Microsoft looming on the near horizon, there has been a certain amount of doom-mongering, akin to the Y2K scenario which implies that older devices running on the Microsoft OS might suddenly stop working. However, a more accurate scenario would be that enterprise customers still using these older devices after the end of extended support will be more prone to an attack if a security issue targeting these devices is developed and identified. This is more likely in the field service industry where devices are exposed to external WAN connectivity.
The good news is that most field-based applications have already migrated to Android-based devices as the drive to consumer-like user interfaces (UI) has pushed this change. In manufacturing and warehouse environments, the risk to security is lower as many of these systems are on closed networks behind firewalls, without external connectivity. However, that does not necessarily make them immune. A primary challenge for IT departments will be the budgeting and timing as there are significant implications given the tremendous amount of work needed to prepare for OS migration. This will include a hardware and an application software refresh resulting in a lot of work on the back-end system that drives the front-end app. In addition, there will need to be a rebuild on customizations to the original app and integration. Operational challenges can also be expected too as a new device and app may require retraining the workforce.
Do you see most companies choosing to migrate to Android? Why?
Pemberton: Some companies in specific markets are using iOS-based devices due to their stylish aesthetic. However, most businesses have been taking notice of the significant advantages Android brings to the enterprise, specifically in key areas like security and manageability. As a result, companies across various sectors are increasingly turning to Android as the preferred OS.
Is this creating opportunities for ISV?
Pemberton: Absolutely, customers considering a device refresh creates an opportunity for incumbent or new-entrant ISVs to pitch a software refresh in the same cycle.
What advice do you offer ISVs who are working with businesses transitioning to a new OS?
Pemberton: It is highly likely that on the older WinEmbedded and WinCE devices the legacy application will be feature-limited and equally “vintage” in function and the UI. In this case, an ISV should present the key advantages of a modern UI built on Android, such as ease of use and minimal training required, along with new features that can dramatically improve workflows. This helps present a compelling ROI for the total refresh of hardware and software.
James joined Symbol Technologies in 2005 and led the EMEA ISV and Alliances team for over 10 years as the company changed from Symbol to Motorola Solutions to Zebra Technologies. James’ current role is driving the strategy and program for Zebra to work more closely with software vendors large and small. Before joining Symbol, James worked for six years in retail software and prior to entering the enterprise software world, James spent over 10 years in the electronic components market, primarily with Mitsubishi Semiconductors.