There are actually a number of free apps for Apple and Android smart phones and tablets. These apps may be OK for the most basic applications, such as a consumer scanning a QR code to get additional product information, but they are hardly ready for prime time in the supply chain. These apps generally are slow to read a bar code, have real limitations in terms of reading bar codes in poor lighting, and may not read multiple bar code types.
Zebra Technologies, which entered the wireless terminal and scanner market with its 2014 acquisition of part of Motorola Solutions, has the following to say about the matter on its web site:
“In low lighting conditions, a consumer-grade smartphone will need to use the built-in "torch" for illumination. This is an obvious drain on battery life. Then there's the camera mechanism. Even on day one it can take a while to find the focal point and line up the barcode for scanning; but as the months pass by, focus becomes even more difficult as the mechanism gets scratched. And decoding barcodes that are damaged or on uneven surfaces inevitably leads to having to manually key in the code - which of course takes time and can lead to human error.
“All this results in average decoding times of two to ten seconds. In isolation, that doesn't sound like much. But when you consider that a delivery driver may have 200 parcels on a route - which all need scanning onto the van, and then off the van at the point of delivery -those seconds really start to add up.
“None of this is surprising when you consider that the camera in consumer smartphones is designed for taking pictures and not scanning. This means that at the end of the day, the productivity of the field worker suffers, operational costs increase, and long-term value diminishes.”
So what's the answer? It is possible to add an external laser scanner, in any one of various form factors (such as a ring scanner worn on a finger) to smart phones and tablets, generally using a wireless Bluetooth connection.
But that obviously adds another piece of hardware to the equation, and that scanner is likely to cost $200-300 or more, depending on the scanner chosen.
Which perhaps provides an opportunity for some company to come up with an innovative solution, and that company may just be SCANDIT, headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland but with US offices in Boston and San Francisco.
At the NRF "“Big Show" in New York City last week, the company featured its software that takes bar code scanning with phones and tablets to a whole new level.
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The system comes as a software development kit (SDK) that allows other software firms or regular companies to add high performance bar code reading to their own software applications just using the device's camera, without an external scanner.
The SCANDIT booth at NRF featured an iPhone reading bar codes on a spinning wheel at amazingly fast speeds, and then later a phone reading nine bar codes on a shelf of inventory simultaneously.
Below, you will find a very short video excerpted from SCDigest editor Dan Gilmore's NRF Day 2 video review, that includes the high speed reading demo and comments from one of the company's co-founders.
Interesting New Bar Code Scanning Solution for Smart Phones from SCANDIT
As noted in the video, the SCANDIT application can read almost every bar code symbology, both linear (e.g., UPC, Code 39, Code 128) and two-dimensional (e.g., QR Code, Data Matrix, PDF417), more than 20 symbologies in total.
The company also demonstrated how the software's algorithms are able to decode many badly damaged codes (unlikely to be read with the free scanner apps), and the SCANDIT web site claims it can read codes even in very low light.
There are several different licensing schemes for the software, such as whether it will be used by consumers (say in a store) or by employees (such as in DC). Pricing is not made public, but obviously has to be less expensive than the cost of an external scanner.
There of course limitations. The read range is just a few feet, for example, and depends on the quality of the camera. However, this is a very interesting piece of software that anyone interested in using smart phones for data collection in the DC might want to consider.
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