Motorola's New Symbol MC35

Now that Motorola has acquired Symbol, the leading manufacturer of rugged mobile devices, the spectrum between consumer-focused Smartphones and industrial-strength handhelds continues to be blurred. The MC35 is the newest model in the class of device that Symbol has dubbed the Enterprise Digital Assistant.

While the market for this device may not be readily apparent at first glance, potential users occupy the previously neglected space between blue-collar workers needing extremely rugged hardware, and white-collar workers who are often content using the mobile devices they acquired personally for business use. For instance, many supervisors who oversee workers using ruggedized mobile applications need to lug a heavy unit around with them all day, because they may need to occasionally perform a specific task. With the MC35, though the manager could use the device as their primary wireless phone for voice and e-mail as well as be able to run applications used by their workers that may have beat initially deployed on an industrial-strength device like the Symbol MC9000.

To help accelerate the rapid adoption of this device, Symbol worked with software partners like Corrigo and Dexterra to ensure that their software was fully tested and validated with the new device before its launch. With over a dozen certified line-of-business applications including transportation, logistics, deliver, and field sales or service, Symbol can offer customers one-stop shopping to rapidly deploy robust enterprise application functionality to their mobile workforce. While not necessarily appropriate for all customers, there is certainly a class of businesses that could see dramatic benefit from deploying these readily-availabe solutions.

Digital camera reads barcodes

The MC35 runs the Windows Mobile 5.0 Phone Edition software with Direct Push technology and is loaded with goodies. With a built-in phone that supports push-to-talk and the high-speed Cingular EDGE GPRS/GSM wireless data network, this device was designed with communications and connectivity in mind. It also has built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and optional GPS that can be used with location-based services or applications. The device is powered by a 416 MHz XScale processor from Intel with 64 MB of RAM and 129 MB of ROM.

One of the most innovative features is a 2.0 megapixel camera that reads barcodes. The device includes built-in software that recognizes the barcodes from the image taken by the camera. When I first got the device, I had trouble getting it to successfully scan any barcodes. After a little trial-and-error, I quickly learned that turning on the built-in flashlight, holding the device still, and making sure the barcode is centered improves accuracy quite a bit. While certainly not the most efficient way to scan barcodes, this approach is fine for occasional use. It might be a good strategic move to make this software available to other devices as high-resolution cameras are becoming more common in Windows Mobile devices.

In the real world

Several years ago when I first saw the MC35's processor, the MC50, I was somewhat skeptical about its usability as a day-to-day device. I carried it around for about a week when it first came out, and while it was a great device, it's also a bit of a brick- suitable only for those who truly need a device with rugged durability. Even though the initial target for the MC50 was this same white-collar and gray-collar user, its ultimate adoption was largely driven by blue-collar deployments that just didn't need the extreme rugged capabilities.

The MC35, though, is a much sleeker device with a lot more mainstream appeal. While I can't imagine anyone calling the unit "sexy," it's not "geeky" either. In fact, the device has an early similar appearance to certain BlackBerry models. About 15 percent larger than the Palm Treo 700w, but weighing only 1/10 of an ounce more, the unit is physically comparable to widely adopted mainstream devices. Although it may be slightly pushing it for some users, the MC35 can be comfortably carried in a pants or jacket pocket, which may actually be a first for a Symbol device. Motorola's influence on Symbol's product development is very apparent.

As I have been carrying the MC35 as my primary device, I have found it to be completely acceptable for standard tasks like voice and e-mail. The standard battery easily lasts through an extensive day of regular use, and I found the keyboard to be quite comfortable to use (much easier than the keyboard on the MC50). The moderately ruggedized plastic casing feels very sturdy and is designed to sustain fifty drops from three feet onto tile.

Having extensively used the unit in my day to-day tasks, I found myself coming to the realization that this device could truly bridge the gap between blue and white-collar mobility. As many organizations are reluctant to roll out enterprise apps beyond e-mail on consumer oriented devices brought into the companies by the users themselves, this device can create an opportunity for enterprises to strategically provide mobile automation to information workers who have never before recognized the need or potential for this type of solution.

Although the phone supports Cingular's GSM/GPRS network, it is sold through Symbol's distributor network. This should help with enterprise sales, since many IT shops planning centrally-deployed solutions are gun shy about working with carriers who stand in the middle and control everything. They prefer enterprise-oriented companies like Symbol.

The verdict

The jury is still out on whether the market will emerge to embrace Motorola's new "Enterprise Digital Assistant" category. But if it happens, I believe that the MC35 is a solid contender. I've got to commend Motorola for stretching the boundaries of Symbol's innovation. The MC35 is an excellent device that is perfectly suited for a significant number of enterprises mobile applications-many of which have yet to be discovered.

The Motorola/Symbol MC35 is available directly from Motorola ( The price of the device varies with the size of the deployment. Individual units are available in the $700-$800 price range from numerous online vendors.


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