What Are Rugged Mobile Devices, and Who Needs Them? The Answer May Surprise You

The term “rugged mobile device” may conjure images of phones that can survive a whitewater rafting trip or a days-long journey into the wilderness. In reality, though, rugged mobile hardware can be valuable in a variety of settings, including but not limited to the types of extreme conditions that the term “rugged” implies.

Wondering what a rugged mobile device is and where you can use one? Keep reading for an overview of rugged mobile hardware and key use cases for these devices.

What Is a Rugged Mobile Device?

A rugged mobile device is one that is designed (and usually tested) to withstand unusual environmental conditions that would damage standard mobile hardware, such as heavy impacts or prolonged exposure to water.

Of course, the meaning of “rugged” lies in the eye of the beholder. There is no formal definition of what qualifies as a rugged mobile device, and the exact specifications of rugged mobile hardware vary from one device to another with regard to the types of conditions they can withstand. Often, rugged mobile hardware is designed and tested to comply with standards like MIL-STD-810, a U.S. military standard, but there is no specific test that a mobile device needs to pass in order to qualify as rugged.

If your business needs a custom mobile device, then, the device can be tailored to meet performance requirements in whichever environmental conditions the business needs to support. You’re not limited to hardware that aligns with any specific standard or set of features.

Use Cases for Rugged Mobile Hardware

Businesses leverage rugged mobile devices in various settings, including but not limited to those you may be inclined to think of as rugged. Here’s a look at different types of use cases for rugged hardware.

Construction Sites

Construction workers may need mobile devices to communicate, order materials, track progress, and so on. Yet conventional, off-the-shelf devices aren’t designed to stand up to the dust, moisture, and potential impacts that are routine on construction jobs. Protective phone cases can help to protect devices, but they only go so far.

With rugged mobile phones or tablets, construction workers can access the applications and data they need without having to worry about serious damage to their devices.

Industrial Operations

Plant floors are another setting where rugged devices offer obvious benefits. By resisting damage due to dust or impacts, rugged devices allow workers in industrial settings to leverage the apps they need to track assembly lines, manage supply chains, document processes, and so on in locations where standard hardware would likely prove to be short-lived.

Devices Stored in Vehicles

A car or truck probably doesn’t seem like an extreme environment. On a hot day, however, temperatures inside a vehicle exposed to direct sunlight can exceed 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Other times, a device may be needed for refrigerated trucks with perishable goods. Most conventional mobile devices would either automatically shut themselves down when the temperature climbs that high/low or (worse) keep operating and risk serious damage.

That behavior may pose a problem for businesses whose workers need to store or use mobile devices inside vehicles, especially if devices shut down periodically due to overheating or from moisture due to condensation. Rugged mobile devices that can withstand high and low temperatures solve this challenge, helping to ensure that devices remain on and connected even if they are left in parked cars or trucks.

Outdoor Workers

On the other end of the spectrum, most conventional phones begin performing poorly, and could eventually shut down, when ambient temperatures dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. They’ll also experience problems if they become wet during rainstorms or other moist conditions. Workers can protect phones by keeping them tucked in their pockets, but that’s not always a practical solution if the devices need to be accessed frequently.

For businesses with employees who need to remain outside in freezing temperatures or wet conditions for prolonged periods, rugged mobile devices that are resistant to low temperatures and moisture provide performance and reliability that standard devices cannot. In this regard, rugged mobile hardware can benefit a wide range of workers, from police officers tasked with walking beats in winter to ski resort staff, to outdoor maintenance workers and beyond.


You may not think of a restaurant as a rugged setting. But the spills and falls that a device might suffer in both a restaurant kitchen and the front of house can be very problematic for conventional phones that are not designed to withstand these types of risks.

Because rugged mobile hardware is resilient in these settings, it’s an excellent solution when designing tablets that receive customer orders in the front of house, for example, as well as for devices that waitstaff or kitchen staff use to track orders and inventory.

Conclusion: The Many Uses for Rugged Mobile Hardware

From restaurant floors to plant floors, rugged mobile devices can help businesses bring the power of mobile hardware and software to workers in a variety of settings where standard phones or tablets would be impractical. That’s especially true when businesses create custom rugged mobile devices tailored to the specific requirements of wherever they need to deploy mobile hardware.