I first noticed the phenomenon of companies with route drivers moving from ruggedized Windows Mobile handhelds to Windows tablets a few years ago. The thinking was you could turn these folks who perform direct store delivery (DSD), pickup and delivery, and dispatched tasks into sellers and marketers. The tablet would run a bigger version of the handheld app, while also providing a vivid product catalog and perhaps even videos to show the customer at the point of activity. The Windows tablets back then were thick, heavy, and had marginal battery life that wouldn’t make it through a complete shift without charging it in the truck while driving. A lot of them followed Intel’s reference design for a healthcare-focused tablet with an integrated handle. Anyway, in spite of the shortcomings of yesterday’s Windows 7 tablets, it was a good idea. The Windows Forms apps that ran on the .NET Compact Framework were easily ported to the full .NET Framework on the tablet since the only change was the screen size. Those field employees found their app easier to use (and see) while becoming part-time upsellers.
Things are even better with today’s Windows 8 tablets. The world’s most popular operating system is faster, more secure, and uses less memory and fewer resources than it’s predecessors. Intel has followed suit with a system on chip (SoC) design called Clover Trail (Atom) that gives thin and light tablets better performance, x86 compatibility, and 10 hours of battery life. OEMs have combined Windows 8 and Intel’s new multicore Atom processor to create enterprise-class tablets that are thinner and lighter than the iPad. All of them support capacitive multitouch and some include a digitizer stylus. A huge opportunity has presented itself to move the .NET Compact Framework apps that most every company around the world depend on to run their business. Using Microsoft’s latest version of Visual Studio and .NET, those full screen Windows Mobile apps can be upsized to full screen Windows Forms apps designed for touch on Windows 8 tablets. Your existing UI, business logic, SQL Server Compact database, and data sync code will all make the move. Once you enlarge your font sizes as well as your touchable UI elements, you’ll be good to go for deployment. There is no faster, cheaper or lower risk way to move your existing apps to the tablet era. Contrast this with the millions you might spend porting those apps to other platforms using completely different development tools, programming languages, and technologies. Speaking of risk, there’s no guarantee that alternate tablet technologies will support your existing Bluetooth and USB peripherals like thermal printers, RS232 adapters, barcode scanners, and DEX interfaces just to name a few.
The focus of your business is to make money at whatever you’re good at. It’s not about perpetually running on the technology Hamster wheel. If you’re considering making a move from Windows Mobile or Windows Embedded Handheld devices to tablets, I’ve just laid out your fastest time to value. Oh, and don’t worry, your updated, full screen, touchable WinForms apps will work just fine with the keyboard and mouse/trackpad on your Windows 7 laptops and tablets. Sounds pretty pragmatic, doesn’t it?