[Published in the CIO Review Sept/Oct 2012]
At this point, you’ve probably seen QR codes printed on magazine ads, direct mail pieces and posters. You may even have used a mobile shopping app for scanning a UPC barcode to compare prices of products online. We are now seeing smartphone scanning technology being effectively deployed in the workplace as employees are given tablets and smartphones or bringing their own device to work (BYOD).
Merchants, educators and enterprises are beginning to roll out iOS and Android devices for AIDC applications. Because traditional mobile scanners used for AIDC can cost as much as $1,500 or more, smartphones and tablets with or without ruggedized cases offer a low cost, easily replaceable and customizable alternative. In many cases, these alternative devices are more convenient and offer more utility than traditional AIDC hardware. And they are already in your pocket! As employees are exposed to the user interfaces of Android and iOS devices, the training required for commercial applications can potentially be much lower.
Rugged and purpose-built mobile computers won’t go away – they are critical for many applications, and especially for harsh, rugged environments. Instead, what we will see are many new opportunities for businesses to collect data and increase productivity based on the low price, convenience and ready availability of smartphones. For the AIDC industry as a whole, we see the expansion of value-added services into these new areas.
What’s holding up adoption?
The camera on smartphones is excellent for scanning QR codes and UPC barcodes but has been far less efficient at reading the plethora of barcode symbologies used in most commercial applications. While some of those codes are being replaced by QR codes, most businesses will continue to use those other symbologies for a long time to come.
The good news is smartphones will soon be able to efficiently scan these commercial symbologies, and do so as fast and accurately as traditional AIDC scanners. [This enabling technology will be announced in Q4/2012 or sooner.]
The most common symbologies for commercial applications include:
• PDF-417 (boarding passes, driver’s licenses, shipments, documents, IDs, expo badges, etc.)
• Aztec (boarding passes and rail transportation tickets)
• Data Matrix (marking small items, marking secure items, documents, etc.)
• Code 39/Code 128 (tickets, shipments, packaging)
• Maxicode (shipments )
• Plessey Codes (shelf labels)
• Codabar (FED-X, blood banks, libraries)
• Plus many more
Opportunities for entrepreneurs
In the first million transactions recorded and validated using codeREADr, our commercial barcode scanning app and SaaS platform, the top five (5) ‘objects’ scanned were (in order):
1. Tickets (access control)
2. Asset Tags (real-time asset tracking and inventory)
3. Badges (meetings & expos – especially for lead retrieval and attendance tracking)
4. IDs (student, membership, patient and employee)
5. Offers, Vouchers, Loyalty Cards and Coupons (Apple’s Passbook will greatly increase this category)
Entrepreneurs will be able to build third party services leveraging a smartphone’s ability to track, validate and authenticate data embedded in these objects.
In particular, as many of these objects will be moving from paper-based to mobile-based (e.g. Apple Passbook or Google Wallet), they can not only deliver these objects but also close the loop and validate them without a significant capital expense for hardware.
By Rich Eicher, CEO & Founder, Skycore LLC, developers on the codeREADr.com platform