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Why Smartphones are No Match for Barcode Scanning with an Enterprise-Grade Device

Posted by Steve Northcott

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March 26, 2015 at 10:38 AM


As a football fanatic – it could easily be argued that the infamous semi-final of last year’s World Cup, where Germany defeated Brazil 7-1, was a severe case of “men against boys”. You don’t have to be a member of the Sky Sports punditry team to realise that the void between the teams has been wider than the Grand Canyon.

But sometimes in sport a winning margin of seconds, or even split seconds, can be equally as empathic. Remember when Usain Bolt won the 100m Gold at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing? His new world record was “only” two tenths of second ahead of the field but the margin was tangibly visible. Sure, some of the chasing pack had over-achieved by their own standards, with personal best times. But Bolt was in a different class altogether.

The same can be said when you’re comparing barcode scanning with a smartphone vs a ruggedised enterprise-grade device. When they’re under starters orders, a consumer-grade smartphone seems like a viable option. They look the part, their processing power is impressive, they’re intuitively designed, and their initial purchase cost is relatively low. But are they fit-for-purpose, and have they really got what it takes to go the distance?

If you only consider the hard (deployment) costs for smartphones; such as hardware, accessories, software, implementation, and training – then it seems like a fairly close call. But as discussed in our guide, The Hidden Costs of Consumer-Grade Mobile Technology, it becomes a different story when you also consider the soft (operational) costs such as productivity loss, opportunity loss, and IT support costs which make up 90 per cent of TCO for non-rugged devices.

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Enterprise-grade devices really start to streak ahead when it comes to barcode scanning. Of course consumer-grade smartphones can scan barcodes. But several every day factors really impede their performance – and therefore, the productivity of the field service worker.

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.

The same can’t be said for a ruggedised enterprise-grade device such as Zebra Technologies’ TC55. Designed specifically for the modern enterprise, the TC55 touch computer combines smartphone usability with enterprise-grade functionality to radically increase the speed and accuracy of barcode scanning in the field. The integrated scanner features an 8MB sensor which auto calibrates every time so focusing is always lightning-quick. This reduces decoding time to ‘00ths of a second – regardless of lighting conditions, uneven surfaces, or damaged barcodes. Compare that to barcode scanning with a consumer-grade device and there’s only one winner.

You can find out more about Zebra Technologies’ enterprise-grade TC55 by joining the Zebra Technologies Global LinkedIn Group.

I’d also like to hear about your experiences of using consumer-grade mobile devices for barcode scanning. Please leave your comment and let’s start a conversation.

Topics: Supply Chain, Manufacturing, T&L, Field Mobility