Motorola Rolls Out "Me, Too" Small RFID Reader

Riding small CPUs enabling much smaller form factors, Motorola on Tuesday (April 28) introduced a 1.8-pound fixed RFID reader measuring 7.7 inches long, 5.9 inches wide and 1.7 inches deep. The vendor described the FX7400 series units as being "less than half the size of traditional fixed RFID readers, making (them) ideal for retail stores and other customer-facing environments."

But analysts were less than impressed, pointing out that the Motorola units were actually larger than many other major RFID readers today, despite being smaller than other Motorola RFID readers. "I definitely classify this as 'ho hum.' ThingMagic and Impinj as well as some others have much smaller form factors and more functions," said Pete Abell, a longtime RFID analyst (used to be with IDC) who today works as an independent consultant. "Do not know price point but this at least keeps them in the game for readers both fixed and mobile, where they excel."

Paula Rosenblum, a technology analyst with RSR Research, said her read of the Motorola statement was that it didn't "particularly grab me. There are some specs I'm not aware of, or didn't see, most notably: how far away can it read? A tool is just a tool without an application."

That all said, even if Motorola's reader is not the among the best and the lightest, it is still an impressively portable unit from a major supplier. "The specs appear to be considerably smaller than what I have seen in the past," said another analyst, IHL President Greg Buzek. "The low weight in particular is a benefit for mounting."

Motorola pitched the line as something that can be "installed under point-of-sale counters, behind walls or on ceilings," making it potentially effective "for item-level tracking, retail inventory management, file tracking and asset management applications in environments where performance and a small footprint are critical."

RFID is not without its critics and cynics, who question whether RFID will ever become a sustainable profitable capability beyond isolated projects. Rosenblum counts herself among them. "I have always been Nancy Negative when it comes to a technology like RFID, which is essentially in search of an application," she said. "Who is going to use it? What are these 'growing needs'? And why do they lend themselves to fixed readers versus handhelds?"

Arguably, a less-than-2-pound unit that is smaller than 8 inches long, 6 inches wide and 2 inches deep is pretty close to a handheld, if it's not already there. And if it's not, it's at most a year away. But the point isn't the amorphous distinction between a handheld and a fixed reader (anyone care to tackle the difference between a PDA and a smartphone?) as much as it's what that kind of power in such a small footprint can potentially do. Call it what you will, but if IT wants to get creative, there's a huge potential there, regardless of whether it's using RFID or a dozen other technologies.

Miniaturization is a wonderful thing, but only if shrinking footprints are matched by growing IT imaginations.