Austin-based Xplore Technologies, which built its business around highly rugged tablet computers, has launched the XSLATE B10. The new offering is a first for the company, in that it shows the influence of the lighter, sleeker Motion Computing offerings which xPlore acquired earlier this year.
Before Xplore acquired Motion in April, 2015, their niche was the extreme end of the rugged market, and while they had several Windows and Android offerings, their iX104 was the biggest beast in the rugged space.
“I called the iX104 the ‘6 by 6’ because it weighs almost six pounds and costs almost $CDN 6000,” said Scott Ball, xPlore’s Canadian country manager, who had previously been Motion’s Canadian country manager for over a decade, and who moved to xPlore with the Motion acquisition. “It is the most rugged tablet in the world, fully submersible, highly configurable, and field upgradeable.” It’s popular in defense industries, including the U.S. Defense Department’s Drone program.
While xPlore has focused on the most rugged end of the market, Motion, which historically shipped many more devices and had higher revenues, has sold machines which were less rugged, but also less expensive, and as such addressed a broader market.
“We didn’t compete with each other very much, because they were so ultra-rugged and we were more in the middle,” Ball said. “If someone wanted xPlore they likely wouldn’t be interested in Motion, and vice versa. xPlore’s volumes weren’t near Motion’s, in either dollars or transactions. xPlore was also much more into large projects, with customers like Verizon, AT&T, and Hydro One.”
xPlore’s acquisition of the larger company came about because it was able to take advantage of a huge problem Motion had forced on it by a supplier.
“Motion had been profitable, but supply chain issues developed suddenly with a display manufacturer who shuttered their factory with no notice,” Ball said. “Motion’s F5 tablet was 65 per cent of total worldwide revenues and we couldn’t ship it for six months. That’s when xPlore came in to seize a great opportunity.”
The combination of xPlore and Motion makes xPlore the second largest rugged tablet vendor in the world, behind only Panasonic. The Motion branding remains, although they are now branded as Motion by xPlore.
Ball said that the new product, the XSLATE B10, is really the first hybrid product since the acquisition, which represents Motion influence on xPlore design.
“It is a good example of the meshing created by the merger,” he said. “While the xPlore and Motion lines were very different before, the B10 launch crosses over into both areas and does make us much closer. The B10 is very compact and very rugged. Weighing 2.5 pounds, it’s lightweight for a rugged tablet, and is sexier than past xPlore products, with traditional Motion features like great touchscreen and stylus support.”
The B10 has a 10.1” WXGA Rugged IPS LCD Backlit Display. The Intel Core i5 CPU is standard, but is upgradeable to an i7 vPro CPU. It features eight ports, four sealed from behind, and an IP65 rating. Options include an integrated barcode scanner, removable companion keyboard, office or vehicle docking stations, kickstand, a second hot swappable battery to extend system runtime to 20 hours and 2-bay or 6-bay simultaneous battery charging options.
The B10 fits into the xPlore portfolio underneath the iX104.
“Because it’s a smaller form factor and lighter weight, we expect it will have much broader appeal than the iX104,” Ball said. “It’s still vertically focused, on the utility markets, oil and gas and telco. AT&T has already taken the first quantity.”
Ball also indicated that the B10 will be the first xPlore product to go through distribution.
”Very few of XPlore’s sales were direct — even AT&T was done through a reseller partner — but they didn’t have major distribution partners because they had a small enough number that they could handle them direct,” he said. Motion’s distribution partners in Canada are SYNNEX, BlueStar, and Filbitron, a niche player who has been a tablet specialist for over 20 years. These are now xPlore’s distributors in Canada as well.
Not surprisingly, only six months after the acquisition, the integration of the two companies is not yet close to completion.
“We have been working really hard to get the integration done, but it won’t be done overnight,” Ball said. “Motion partners are still Motion partners and have access to xPlore products, and xPlore partners are still xPlore partners and have access to Motion products.”
Ball said there are over 80 combined Motion and xPlore partners in Canada.
“Most of them are Motion, but some of these were xPlore partners as well,” he said. “While the two companies didn’t really compete at the customer level, there was some crossover at the channel level.”
Ball said that in the Canadian market, partners are pushing to penetrate the manufacturing sector more deeply.
“Some companies there like Bombardier use us as part of a drive to automate the whole shop floor environment, and we see good opportunities there,” he said. “We also see them in distribution and warehousing, where they are replacing fixed mounted computers on forklifts with tablets.”
Despite the collapse in world oil prices, Ball said oil and gas remains a good market.
“They are hurting, but they are focusing their attention where they can save dollars, and an automation project which will save them money is something they will still invest in,” he said.
While Panasonic is number one in the space, Ball said that his main competition isn’t them, but pen and paper.
“To get value out of a tablet, people need to get around and use it,” he said. “If they just write things up in the truck, they don’t really need a rugged tablet.”
He also noted that Microsoft coming out with Surface has been good for Motion and xPlore’s business.
“Surface has been good, because it exposes more people to tablets and gives an understanding of what the technology is all about,” he said. “They then find that durability is an issue. So they go through a number of steps on someone else’s dime we used to have to take them through!”
The Xplore XSLATE B10 lists at $USD 2,800.