Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=222696
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Jordan Monroe Schultz/MEDILL

iPhone 4 owners reported 82 percent more damaged screens in the first four months compared with Apple's 3GS, according to Square Trade Inc., a company that provides mobile device warranties.


Caterpillar wants rugged phone niche market, but consumers ambivalent

by Jordan Monroe Schultz
Jun 5, 2013


CATCELL2

Business News Wire

Caterpillar sees a marketing opportunity among industrial and commercial workers and anyone else who might be concerned about dropping a cell phone.

Manufacturing giant Caterpillar Inc. released its second rugged smartphone – the B15 – last week hoping to build a niche mobile device market. Yet consumers are ambivalent about purchasing phones from mobile industry outsiders.


Cat’s B15 is “designed to be the most progressive, durable and rugged device available on the market today,” said Bullitt Mobile Ltd., the global licensee of Cat phones, in a press release. While it is currently unavailable for purchase in stores, buyers can purchase the phone through Caterpillar’s website.

"The Cat B15 is designed for a diverse audience, from outdoor adventurers (snowboarders, mountain bikers, etc.) to industrial/construction workers or anyone looking for a phone that withstands dropping, bumping, water and dust,” Bullitt said in a statement.

 

This is the construction-equipment maker's second go at smartphones. It released the B10 in early 2012, but it employed out-of-date technology. Both phones function on major carriers like AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile, but not on Verizon Communications Inc.

The current rugged smartphone market is sparse. Caterpillar told CNNMoney that just 21 million rugged mobile devices were sold last year. AT&T offers only three such phones, all of which operate older Android technologies.

Cat is also marketing its new phone to everyday “klutzes,” as Amanda Schaumann, 25, of Chicago, calls herself. Schaumann, a regional buyer for an energy firm, replaced her cell last month after dropping and shattering the backside of her iPhone 4 at her sister’s graduation. She said she would be interested in purchasing the B15: “I would buy it. If it were a similar quality product, I don’t see why not.”

And the price for durability? An astounding $349 without a contract.

In cellular phone quality, the Cat phone is competitive with Samsung and Apple’s latest phones. The B15 operates on Android’s latest 4.1 Jelly Bean and boasts a 1 GHz dual core processor. Its Android competition, Samsung Inc.’s Galaxy S4 also runs on Jelly Bean but is slightly faster at 1.2 GHz. Similarly, Apple Inc.’s iPhone 5, which runs Apple iOS, clocks in at 1.5 GHz.

While just a bit slower than both industry-leading phones, the B15 excels in durability. It is designed to withstand about a 6-foot drop and submersion in over three feet of water for 30 minutes. It is also dustproof and scratch resistant, and users can use the 4-inch multi-touch screen with wet fingers. Finally, its operation temperature range is between -20° and 55° C. While both competitors boast scratchproof screens, neither phone’s specifications come close to matching up in durability, according to S4 and iPhone 5 official specs.

Despite the B15’s rugged advantages, the competitors cost significantly more. The S4 and iPhone 5 both cost about $650 for no-contract base models through AT&T.

So that begs the question: Should leading cell phones be more durable?

Despite recognizing that she dropped her phone, Schaumann believes so: “It should be more durable.”

Gary Mayeux, a 28-year-old medical student in residency and self-proclaimed “butterfingers,” has replaced the screen on his iPhone three times in the last 10 months. “Every time I drop it, I just hold my breath,” he said. “I think there are products out there that can – should be included in the phone” to make it more durable.

However, Meghan Conley, a 22-year-old recent college graduate who dropped and shattered her iPhone in a restaurant bathroom, is skeptical about purchasing the B15.

She trusts Apple’s product. “Because I’ve had an iPhone for the last two years, and I’m very comfortable with it,” she said. “I’d probably stick with it.”

Apple dominates the mobile phone market with more than 39 percent of it in April, according to comScore, a firm that measures the digital world. Samsung follows with 22 percent.

While Conley is unlikely to switch to a Cat phone, she does recognize the company’s reputation for durability. “If the brand was established more as a phone company, then probably,” she said. “I would probably trust them more with their reputation for their products.”

Caterpillar, according to its licensee, envisions a bright future with the B15. “As consumers see the value of combining style with a reliable and durable design, we expect the rugged device market in North America to grow rapidly and it is our ambition to be the number one global rugged device handset by 2015,” said Bullitt co-CEO Richard Wharton.