Windows versus Android – the battle of the OS

By Danny Dierckx, European Channel & Solution Director, JLT Mobile Computers

Rugged computers generally come with one of two operating systems (OS) – Windows or Android. But it’s not a case of choosing one or the other for your operation. Each has their place in a warehouse. So, what do you use when?

Experience is your guide

You probably use a laptop for the bulk of your work and have a cell phone in your pocket. You use the two devices differently. The superior experience of a full web browser or email is better on your laptop but making a quick payment is so much easier using an app on your phone.

It’s the same with Android and Windows in the rugged computer space. An Android device is better suited to some tasks, while a Windows device works better for others.

Windows, the pioneer

Let’s start with Windows, the veteran of operating systems. The Microsoft OS has been around for a couple of decades, so it has a head start on Android, the newer kid on the block, in the rugged space. With Microsoft’s move to Windows 10 as the default OS, everything from licensing to conversations are much easier going forward. Gone are the days of different versions of Windows which can cloud the comparison of capabilities. As of today, you can call out “Windows 10” and the industry has a baseline understanding on what capabilities and security levels are being referred to.

Compared to Android, Windows devices tend to have higher computing power, more memory and a more powerful CPU. This is useful if you are running a fat client, lots of data for things like real-time visualizations and you want your devices to keep up with your users completing their tasks.

On the other side, all this extra power means that the battery drains faster and the devices run warmer. This is not a concern when using a unit that is mounted or placed in a docking station with a constant power supply.

Another thing that Windows devices do really well is connecting to peripherals. When you connect a scanner or printer to your device, Windows has the drivers to support it about 99% of the time. This saves you time and headaches when you get new equipment. Windows devices also tend to have several ports, so you don’t have to rely on WiFi or Bluetooth to connect to external peripherals.

Mobile device management (MDM) is a hot topic in the mobile computing world. If you run a fleet of Windows computers, you don’t necessarily need a third-party piece of software to keep track and manage your devices. Instead you’ll find most of the functionality embedded in Windows. Obviously, this will keep your costs down. Again, with Windows 10, you can keep a consistent level of compatibility since Microsoft is committed to updating and improving the Windows 10 OS indefinitely, with no plan to release new versions.

Running Windows 10, the slender fixed-mount JLT1014P computer is a perfect choice for warehousing and other logistics applications where space is limited, yet performance, uptime and MDM are of major importance.

Running Windows 10, the slender fixed-mount JLT1014P computer is a perfect choice for warehousing and other logistics applications where space is limited, yet performance, uptime and MDM are of major importance.

Android, the rising star

Moving on to Android, this OS has gained ground quickly. A few years ago, if you handed a customer an Android device they would perceive it more as a toy than a working device. Fast forward a few years and these misconceptions have disappeared as Android devices have grown up and found their footing in the rugged market. One of the first versions of Android to be typically used in production workforces was Android 4.0 (Kit-Kat). As of today, industries are using much more polished and secure versions, from Android 7.0 (Nougat) up to Android 10 (Q).

These devices tend to be single-use app based. So, you don’t need to worry about things like different settings or the start menu. Your workforce clicks on the app and off they go.

Android is well suited to handheld devices that are comfortable to carry around all day, helping workers complete repetitive tasks such as quality checks or inventory control.

What’s more, Android has grown rapidly in the consumer space, so many of your employees will be familiar with the OS and comfortable using it for their jobs. They can pick up a device running any current Android OS including Android 10 and know instinctively how it works, how to change settings and even how to customize it. However, if you don’t lock down the devices with an MDM tool, your workforce can probably get into settings and start changing things they shouldn’t.

And while talking about MDM, you definitely need a tool for that if you’re running Android devices. The operating system doesn’t come with the same controls as Windows.

Android devices have lower onboard storage, generally starting with 32GB, and they have a lower computing power than a Windows device. Not ideal if you need to use data heavy software. But every negative has a positive and this means that they use less power than their Windows counterparts. They can easily last a whole shift without running out of battery.

Linking up to peripherals can sometimes pose problems too. Android doesn’t have all the driver support of Windows so you may find yourself going back to the supplier to make it work. Also, Android devices typically have a limited number of ports so you may have to rely on WiFi or Bluetooth to make connections to peripherals. When this works it’s great, but as we know trying to link a headset to our phone, when it doesn’t it’s frustrating.

On the plus side, Android updates reflect security level needs in the industry and include the addition of popular features customers are looking for, such as dark theme with Android 10. Some of dark theme's benefits – reduced power usage and improved visibility in low-light environments, for instance – are particularly useful for the warehousing and logistics setting.

Pros and cons for both

Despite what you might have heard, there’s no clear winner in the battle of the OS when it comes to rugged computers. Windows and Android have their pros and cons, just like your cell phone and laptop. It’s all down to the use case –there are certain tasks and situations when one OS works better than the other. But that’s not to say that the other will not work.

Windows works particularly well as a vehicle-mounted computer or as a stationary terminal, so it has access to a power source. For example – punching in and out or printing off assignments or mounted on a forklift and processing large amounts of data.

Whereas Android is well suited to a handheld device that your workforce can comfortably carry around all day completing the same task over and over again, say quality checks or inventory checking.

In some cases, the choice of operating system is out of your hands. Like when your software application only works on Android or Windows. Or maybe it has superior performance on one of them.

JLT has customers running either Windows or Android, and commonly, both. We work closely with our customers to make sure they get the right solution for their business, facility and workforce. Please get in touch if you’ve got any questions about operating systems and what would work best for your operation.

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