Benefits of Using a Smart Phone as a Barcode Scanner

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As consumers, we rarely think about barcodes as anything more than the series of lines and spaces on the items we bring to the checkout counter. At most, perhaps we note how much quicker and more efficient it is to purchase an item with a barcode than without.

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Businesses small and large in many industries, however, recognize the value of the traditional barcodes (as well as the 2D barcode in recent years) in providing information about inventory, assets and other investments throughout the supply chain. Now that smartphones have become incredibly common, nearly two-thirds of all Americans have a smartphone such as an iPhone or Android device, it’s easier than ever for business owners to take advantage of barcode technology without making large upfront investments. Though neither dedicated barcode scanners or mobile computers are particularly expensive, the “right-out-the-box” scanning functionality of a smartphone makes it an attractive option.

Whether by encouraging employees to B.Y.O.D. (“bring your own device”) or by taking the steps to ensure smartphones provided by the company are properly equipped with the right apps to read and record barcodes, CEOs and managers can very quickly supply workers with a working barcode scanner that has a myriad of important uses.

What are barcodes and why are they useful?

Turning a smartphone into a barcode scanner isn’t useful unless you know how to efficiently use barcodes to cut costs and increase efficiency. Barcodes are essentially patterns that represent encoded information. Consumers are most likely familiar with 1D or traditional barcodes (the classic lines and spaces first put into retail use back in the 1970s) as well as 2D or QR codes. In recent years, QR codes have become more popular because they pack more information: Traditional barcodes usually contain a serial number that corresponds to more information residing in a central database, including price and remaining on-site inventory, but 2D codes are complex enough to tell you all that and more right away (such as providing photos for reference).


Related Article: Ultimate Guide To Barcode Scanner Apps For Iphone and Android

Since these patterns are not discernible by the human eye, a scanner is needed to read and translate them. The benefit of adding this step is that is drastically reduces the time needed to input and search for the serial numbers that represent certain products, and since readers make roughly one mistake for every 70 million scans (as opposed to one human error per 100 characters), pricing and inventory errors that often happen as a result of manual input are virtually eliminated altogether.

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How to use a smartphone as a barcode scanner

It isn’t so much the operating system of a smartphone that allows it to be integrated into a business’s barcode system, but its Bluetooth and wireless capabilities. The original barcode scanners required a wired connection from the device to the computer they transmitted information to; now, a smartphone that is running the correct app or software can simply connect to a Bluetooth-enabled device, from a reasonable distance, to send information.

Smart mobile devices have image readers that can decode barcodes and QR codes. In order to enable this functionality, the first step is to download a quality barcode scanning app. There are many options to choose from (consult this comprehensive guide to the best apps that provide a variety of functions, depending on what you’re willing to spend). Some apps come with features that can help you accomplish certain goals, such as inventory or asset management, but how to use your scanned barcode information is entirely customizable and up to you.

Of course, reading a barcode with your smartphone is only the first step, next is to take that information and apply it to your existing database. Syncing your smartphone with your computer or other device, such as a tablet, is easy with Bluetooth (and actually more secure than a WiFi network). Another way to use Bluetooth technology is to invest in a small Bluetooth barcode scanner that can be synced with your smartphone device or tablet, allowing your device to play the role of database while the Bluetooth scanner does the reading and transmitting.

Wireless Barcode Scanner for iPad, iPhone, or Android

From there, smartphones with barcode scanning capabilities can be used for a number of jobs, including but not limited to scheduling and dispatching employees; tracking employee work hours with barcodes that input time and attendance information; check-in/check-out systems for fixed assets such as laptops and vehicles; and basic inventory tracking, along with more sophisticated solutions used by large retailers.

Investing in other possibilities

It’s tempting to go to the Google Play or Apple Store, download a free app and get started on asset management right away. For some small businesses, that may be all you require. There are perks to investing in other devices, such as dedicated barcode scanners or mobile computers (which are different from your online-capable smartphone). Increased functionality via one of these options includes:

  • No B.Y.O.D. requirements- Requiring employees to have a smartphone isn’t always possible (remember, one-third of Americans still don’t use them), and investing in a wireless barcode scanner is likely cheaper than investing in a full-fledged smartphone instead.
  • Better durability and functionality- Mobile computers and barcode scanners are often designed for rugged use, which means they can survive drops or other damage that a smartphone cannot. They are also built for the task of scanning, which means they can read barcodes from greater distances and are even faster than smartphones when it comes to image capturing.
  • Better integration- No additional adapters or drivers are necessary when utilizing a barcode scanner or mobile computer, unlike smartphones, which can be subject to viruses, slowdowns, battery issues and other obstacles to database integration.
  • No employee interference- By which we mean smartphones can be forgotten at home or lost by employees, and can be interfered with when incoming calls or texts arrive. A device that is dedicated to the job of scanning (and remains in the office) won’t be interrupted by personal use or issues.

In the end, regardless of whether you use “occasional scanners” such as the smartphones brought in by employees, smartphones with barcode scanning apps provided full-time by the company or dedicated mobile computers that run full operating systems and function as an all-in-one solution, the main takeaway for small businesses is simple: Barcode technology is crucial for those who want to compete with large retailers in terms of shipping and tracking while still keeping expenses low and losses to a minimum.

Wasp Barcode Technologies can help you select the best scanning device for your company’s needs.  For a free consultation and demonstration, click here.

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Paul Trujillo

Paul Trujillo

Paul Trujillo is a Product Marketing Manager at Informatics specializing in Inventory Warehouse Management and Supply Chain product lines. His nearly 15 years of experience has put him at the forefront of industry technology and developing trends.