Rugged laptop arena perfect for Motorola

Motorola Inc. is expanding its public safety scope beyond portable police terminals.

The company, which for 30 years has been making wireless data communications systems for law enforcement and emergency personnel, moved into the ruggedized laptop arena a year ago with the introduction of the Mobile Laptop 800. The company unveiled another ruggedized system, the ML900, in May.

Motorola's move into the ruggedized laptop market is the next logical step in expanding the company's product line, said Steve Surwillo, portfolio manager for mobile computers at Motorola.

"It was a natural extension," he said. "The packaging of those terminal type products into a laptop was very easy."

Most companies rely on military standards to build their products, which include specific tests for impacts, rain and dust, for example, but can also vary substantially. Motorola created its own standards, however, which included a few functionalities not included under military standards, such as a screen impact test.

"There are standards, but they are fairly loose," Surwillo said. "We comply with those and define them more tightly."

Military personnel typically use ruggedized laptops for base patrol and field command, Surwillo said. Motorola's largest market is state and local law enforcement, emergency responders, and utility and transportation personnel. Such users rely on ruggedized laptops to operate in harsh environments and allow them to communicate with one another.

Motorola's wireless data communication systems provide secure, wireless communications from handheld devices and, most notably, terminals mounted in police cruisers and emergency vehicles.

"Motorola has a very long history of wireless communications and computing," said Max Peterson, vice president of federal sales for CDW Government Inc. "They understand the requirements of that segment very well. Their step is a very logical extension."

Motorola is no stranger to ruggedized laptops, having worked closely with other manufacturers. "We had worked with them and felt the market was demanding other manufacturers," Surwillo said.

Peterson said Motorola offers unique features in ruggedized laptops, such as durable screens and hinging. The products are also built for easy docking in vehicles. He said although every vendor's products, such as those made by one of the leading providers, Panasonic, have different features and capabilities, Motorola has a strong product for public safety workers.

"Our goal is to put the right technology in the customers' hands to fit their mission problem," Peterson said. "Motorola will perform better than the Panasonic units and more appropriately in the area of public safety," within particular customer requirements.

Tim Shea, a senior market analyst for Venture Development Corp., said Motorola has increased its visibility in comparison to Panasonic and Itronix Inc., another large manufacturer. The company's knowledge of the field and strength in wireless communications give it an advantage, he said.

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