Exploring Mobile and Embedded Computer Solutions

The Costs of Substituting a Consumer Tablet for a Panel PC

The Costs of Substituting a Consumer Tablet for a Panel PC

You’ve seen them, here and there – iPads and Android Tablets anchored in place on a kiosk, display stand, piece of signage, or a special purpose booth with a special mount, or maybe even zip ties and double-sided tape. When in need of a Panel PC for human-machine interaction purposes, data collection, or retail operations, the urge to use a consumer grade tablet can be strong. After all, they’re affordable, easily available, and familiar to users. With a little bit of ingenuity or a third party adapter, it’s possible to turn such a device into a reasonably functional Panel PC to perform whatever function you need. So with cost, ease of obtainability, and ease of implementation in mind, why not jump right on using a consumer grade tablet as a Panel PC for your commercial applications?

Bricked TabletWhat Software Will Be Run on Your Tablet or Panel PC?

When making the decision to invest in a Panel PC, one of the first questions that needs to be asked is ‘what task will the PC be performing?’ Consumer tablets are generally locked in to a particular operating system, which imposes specific limitations. Often, software is limited to what is available in the particular operating system’s App Store, either requiring a long and complicated process to get custom software approved and able to be used, or leaving one beholden to expensive third party programs that weren’t designed expressly for specific uses.

Commercial Panel PCs, on the other hand, can be programmed with a variety of operating systems, including customized, stripped down and secure version of Android or Linux, making it easy to ensure that your Panel PC does exactly what you need, and limiting or eliminating the risk of security issues. Any program can be installed or removed as needed, without fear that a required “software update” will damage or destroy its functionality. And because you control every aspect of connectivity and functionality, a commercial grade Panel PC can be used even for highly secure information.

What Environments Will Your Tablet or Panel PC Operate In?

For collecting a little bit of consumer information in a retail setting, a consumer tablet may be sufficient. They’re typically designed to stand up to the taps and jostles of such use. But it’s important to consider the exact use case and what a tablet might be called on to endure. A touchscreen computer of any type in a dining or entertainment setting is likely to need regular cleaning, as it will become smudged with food waste, grease, dirt, and debris. Most consumer tablets won’t stand up to frequent application of water, disinfecting chemicals, or cleansers.

Users also will need to consider that kiosks, booths, and other commercial computer installations typically don’t move easily. Many consumer tablets will be hard to use or quickly be damaged or destroyed if they spend long periods of time in direct sunlight, or may be exposed to even a small amount of rain or debris – such as in a “covered” outdoor location like a kiosk or information pavilion. Commercial and Industrial Panel PCs can be equipped with extra bright screens that are easily read in direct sunlight, hardened glass that resists scratches from any debris, and waterproof/dust-proof enclosures that continue to work even in pouring rain or washdown environments.

What Accessories Might Your Tablet or Panel PC Need to Work With?

If your only goal is to gather a bit of consumer information in simple forms, a consumer-grade tablet probably has the functionality to fit your goals. However, if you need your tablet or Panel PC to work with accessory equipment, or work as part of a network of equipment, a consumer tablet may not have the functionality needed.

In kiosk applications from wayfinding to vending, user actions might activate other connected devices like dispensers, secondary screens, or ticket printers. A commercial or industrial Panel PC will have the special connectivity needed for these devices, whether they require a standard USB port, or specialty connections via any one of a number of computer communications ports or header types. And in some instances, Panel PCs need to work as part of a larger interconnected network, such as in ticketing kiosks or gaming installations that have a shared resource. Commercial and industrial Panel PCs can be equipped with various types of Ethernet connectivity ports, never found on today’s consumer grade tablets.

A broken tablet kioskHow Long Will Your Tablet or Panel PC Need to Last?

Consumer tablets are subject to the whims of manufacturers geared towards providing the next big thing. Regular updates of hardware and software means that within a production cycle or two (often measured in months), it may not be possible to get the tablets that your product was designed around and certified for – and even worse, mandatory software updates could break the functionality of existing tablets. Estone Technology panel PCs feature processors and chipsets that will be available for a long product lifecycle, and because we are the manufacturer, we can continue producing the hardware designs you need. Software updates will remain entirely under your control, and our software engineers can work with you to ensure that new updates don’t damage the functionality of your existing panel PCs.

Selecting the Proper Panel PC

Ultimately, except for specific use cases, it is much more cost effective to implement a custom Panel PC solution into your touchscreen implementation than try to shoehorn a consumer tablet into a space it was never designed to fill. Because there are a myriad of selections and options available for a commercial or industrial Panel PC, it pays to talk to an engineering staff with experience in your vertical industry. If you have a space you’re considering a Panel PC solution for, contact Estone Technology for a consultation.

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