Although Windows CE was once the most popular operating system for enterprise handheld devices, used in warehouses and other workplaces worldwide, Microsoft has been gradually phasing it out for the last three years. The extended support that is currently available for some versions (for example, Windows Embedded Compact 2013) is also slated to end in 2023. Microsoft will not be releasing more updates, security patches, or any kind of support for these operating systems, putting businesses that use Windows CE at risk.
Businesses that depend on Windows CE devices and software to operate are effectively being forced to seek out alternatives. Although that comes at a cost, it might not be such a bad thing: new operating system software and modern hardware offer a multitude of advantages with sleek new user interfaces, improved performance and security, and added features.
There is a new generation of devices available today that offers remarkable computing power in a small form factor, with increased performance and ease of use, among many other advantages that were unavailable just a few years ago. With software developers having to rebuild WMS applications and warehouse operators reinvesting in new hardware, the challenge of moving off of Windows CE also presents a unique opportunity for incremental advancements in warehouse productivity, ROI, and user experience for warehouse employees.
Here’s what we won’t miss by leaving the old Windows CE-based devices in the past, where they belong:
- Weak computing power
- Very low memory, in most cases under 512MB
- No cameras or very poor camera resolution
- Difficult to use keyboards, making it harder to train warehouse operators
- Hard to configure Wi-Fi connection
- Weak Wi-Fi range requiring more antennas in the warehouse
- Poor screen resolution
- High cost of entry
Luckily, Google has been ramping up its Android operating system in the last decade, emerging as the new platform of choice for mobile WMS app solutions with its steadily growing market share. Many enterprise device manufacturers are taking note, pivoting to adopt the modern Android operating system in the latest generation of enterprise handheld devices.
This transition to Android brings about a wealth of advantages to businesses and users alike, from improved computing power and performance to an intuitive interface, not unlike the one we already use in daily life on our smartphones and tablets.
New Android-powered devices offer a multitude of advantages:
- Powerful performance
- Superior memory, with 4GB+ standard in many cases
- High camera resolution
- Better screen resolution
- Easy to configure Wi-Fi network connectivity and other settings
- Wi-Fi range similar to a smartphone
- Improved security protocols
- 1D/2D scanning in most devices
- Superior voice quality and functionality
- Usability is similar to smartphones, providing much easier training for operators
Although it has taken an early lead in market share, Android isn’t the only option available to businesses seeking alternatives to Windows CE for mobile warehouse management news. With about 1/3 of the total market share for consumer mobile phones, it makes perfect sense for Apple iOS devices to make their way into the workplace. Although Apple does not currently build rugged devices for warehouses or OEM accessories for ruggedization, there are several manufacturers that have risen to the occasion, building rugged cases with integrated barcode scanning that can convert any iPhone into an efficient handheld device for the warehouse. An exciting outcome is that this paves the way for any device owned by warehouse staff to be used for business processes, extending the power and reach of the WMS software, and delivering a faster return on investment.
Device- and OS-agnostic WMS software allows warehouse operators to make use of existing hardware, eliminating the barrier of entry that comes with the high cost of specialized hardware. Small businesses can even take advantage of personal devices for warehouse management functions, benefitting from the productivity boost of mobile WMS without the steep hardware investment.
The decision that Microsoft made to end support for its Windows CE operating system has set off a domino effect of actions and reactions, forcing hardware and software vendors to make significant improvements in the technology now available for warehouse management. Although it’s never great news to hear that the hardware and software you’ve invested in is being sunset, in the end, the results of the shift away from Windows CE will be tremendously positive for warehouse operators, bringing increased efficiency, ease of use, and value.
About the Author: Jose Yoniel “Yoni” Garcia, Chief R&D Officer, Co-Founder, and Board Member, is one of the founding partners at Magaya, where he began as Vice-President of Technology before moving on to Co-CEO, and now Chief R&D Officer. His commitment to technical excellence and innovation has been paramount to the company’s growth and success over the past twenty years. He holds a Master of Science in Information Technology from Polytechnic University José Antonio Echeverría, where he also served as a Professor of Software Engineering.