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Understanding Impact Standards for Consumer Tech

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As brand-new consumer technology continues to hit store shelves in record numbers, many shoppers are looking for heavy-duty, rugged products. Great for fieldwork, construction sites and even for the highly mobile user, these laptops, smartphones and other devices can take a beating. Some feature “military-grade” stickers and labeling — but is that just a buzzword, or does it mean something?

Consumer-Grade Industry Standards

In 1962, then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy established a set of four fundamental consumer rights. These include:

  • The right to consumer safety
  • The right to information regarding consumer products
  • The right to choose which product is best for you
  • The right to express your opinion — either negative or positive — after using a product

Although there are other consumer rights, many of which a group called Consumers International introduced, the four primary consumer rights above apply directly to consumer goods within the U.S.

Generally speaking, any product or service that matches the four stipulations outlined above is qualified as consumer-grade. Additionally, some products carry additional features or provisions that may qualify them as “industrial-grade” or “military-grade.”

Industrial-Grade Industry Standards

Industrial-grade products differ from consumer-oriented releases by meeting the needs of a specific application, project or purpose. Some notable differences include:

  • These products typically use single-level cell NAND flash memory architecture, as opposed to the less resilient multi-level cell platform many consumer and commercial products use.
  • Highly sophisticated algorithms and computer processes, such as error checking and correction, wear leveling and defect management, are all prevalent in industrial-grade hardware. Since manufacturers produce consumer goods as cheaply as possible, such features are notably absent from most consumer releases.
  • Industrial-grade products typically feature longer product life cycles. While many industrial-grade devices have a service time of approximately 4,000,000 hours between failures, the meantime between failure rate for most commercial and consumer products hovers around 200,000 hours. Industrial-grade hardware is also designed to last longer, with some life expectancies surpassing 10 years.

Other products are custom-built for the intended industry and usage. As such, you might uncover even more differences when comparing industrial-grade products to those meant for the average consumer.

Military-Grade Industry Standards

Those who want the highest durability and security might opt for military-grade equipment. Such devices are typically well-suited for outdoors and capable of withstanding minor drops, falls and impacts. This hardware also performs well in poor weather conditions, including heat, cold and extreme weather. Some applications that require military-grade equipment include:

  • Commercial and industrial construction sites where the device is prone to damage from falls, impacts or spills
  • In the field, where researchers and scientists have to traverse rugged terrain to reach their survey sites
  • Large-scale mining activities that produce tremendous amounts of dust, moisture and other particles
  • Current and former military applications, many of which are classified

The industry standards outlined above make it easy to tell the difference between products meant for consumer, industrial or military use. Unfortunately, some manufacturers want to capitalize on the perceived value of industrial- or military-grade equipment by slapping these labels on their consumer technology.

Understanding the Differences

The military standard MIL-STD 810G rates the quality of military-grade smartphones. Devices that undergo this testing are subjected to extreme temperatures, electrical shocks, large impacts, elevated drops and more. Unless a product meets all these guidelines to an acceptable degree, it’s not military-grade — regardless of what the package states.

Complicating matters even further is the fact that there isn’t a centralized organization to oversee compliance and validate the claims of consumer tech manufacturers. The responsibility is entirely up to the consumer. While a product might meet military-level standards in one area, it might not maintain such high industry standards throughout its complete design — which means it’s not suitable for military use.

The market isn’t nearly as cut-and-dried as it looks from the outside. Although that new phone you’re eyeing might not meet all the standards of military hardware, do you really need a smartphone that’s capable of taking a bullet? On the other hand, manufacturers that make false claims about these standards might take shortcuts elsewhere in their products.

Ultimately, it comes down to the brand’s reputation and the consumer’s ability to trust their word.

Weighing Your Options

While the terms “industrial-grade,” “military-grade” and “consumer-grade” are sometimes misleading, they are useful when beginning your search for the perfect smartphone or laptop. As always, it’s important to conduct prior research, compare features between manufacturers and, if possible, ask your friends, family members or colleagues for their helpful advice.

Understanding Impact Standards for Consumer Tech
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Article by: Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance science writer and science enthusiast. Her favorite subjects include astronomy and the environment. Megan is also a regular contributor to The Naked Scientists, Thomas Insights, and Real Clear Science. When she isn't writing, Megan loves watching movies, hiking, and stargazing.