Choosing the best mobile scanning accessory for the enterprise: case, sled or peripheral

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By Samuel Mueller, CEO, Scandit.

Barcode scanning is one of the easiest ways to collect product data. But choosing a scanning device is not always so simple.

Initially, enterprises must decide whether to use a dedicated hardware scanner, peripheral device, or mobile devices equipped with a data capture solution. All of these options have their pros and cons.

Dedicated scanners are rugged, ergonomic and offer a high degree of scanning performance. However, they are also expensive to purchase, maintain and upgrade, can be bulky and are limited to a single function – scanning barcodes. Employees may still need to utilise some other type of mobile device for tasks such as communication and navigation. Across a wide-scale deployment, these costs and limitations can really add up.

Peripheral scanners that attach via USB cord or Bluetooth connection to mobile devices offer the ergonomic, durability and performance advantages of dedicated scanners. These peripheral scanners extend the investment in mobile devices, but they are expensive, cumbersome and are frequently lost or stolen, leading to high replacement rates. They also introduce another electronic device with multiple points of failure into the corporate IT environment and increasing rates of equipment service too. Finally, peripherals require workers to carry two mobile devices – the scanner plus the mobile device it attaches to – which is impractical.

In contrast dedicated scanning software can directly turn mobile devices such as smartphones into barcode scanners. Smartphones also cost much less per unit to purchase and maintain than dedicated scanners. Leveraging dedicated cloud-based software, users can quickly and affordably upgrade and customise scanning capabilities as needed. Smartphones also have numerous other uses besides scanning, increasing potential ROI without the need for additional peripherals.

Certain scanning environments may pose challenges to smartphones. Enterprises have traditionally relied upon dedicated scanners in these scenarios. Higher cost and lower usability are traded for guaranteed performance. But more recently, options have emerged that make smartphones a viable scanning tool in any environment. For example, scanning sleds and ruggedized cases can both enable smartphone scanning performance in challenging environments. Sleds provide a protective smartphone sleeve, and via an imager or laser component, they enable smartphones to perform barcode scanning. They also may offer an additional battery and/or a magnetic card reader.

Enterprise sleds allow smartphone scanning in high-volume or basic rugged situations. However, they can be costly and awkward to handle, and require additional built-in electrical components to function. This increases the need for maintenance and creates new possibilities for equipment failure.

Rugged cases simply increase the protection of a smartphone scanner against the elements. Rugged cases guard smartphones against dust, dirt and moisture. They also provide durability in the case of falls and drops, and some rugged cases even offer battery extension.

However, rugged cases provide no ergonomic support and lack any built-in scanning functionality, which can be critical. That's where the more recent introduction of barcode scanning cases comes in. These are cases that provide a highly effective and affordable solution that significantly expands the applications of smartphone scanning. Scan cases work in conjunction with scanning apps or mobile solutions to improve ergonomics and worker efficiency.

Leveraging a smartphone's existing camera and flash, a scanning case eliminates the need for any additional electrical components, battery, built-in imager or laser scanner. It also benefits from the full functionality of the scanning software, including frequent updates to support new symbologies or continuously improve performance.

As a result, cases are often significantly less expensive than other mobile barcode scanning solutions, and users can expect to save 40 to 60% when compared with a dedicated scanner while offering equivalent speed, quality and performance. In addition to upfront cost savings, cases can also deliver a lower total cost of ownership (TCO). Software updates are delivered instantly via cloud connection. Since most employees are familiar with smartphones, the need for training is largely eliminated and operational errors are reduced. Smartphones also simultaneously deliver other functionality, such as communication.

Furthermore, the small and lightweight form-factor works as well, or better than, a much bulkier enterprise sled or peripheral. Smartphones are less likely to fail than other mobile barcode scanning solutions due to the simplicity of the device, which will reduce downtime.

Added ergonomics, such as forward scanning capability, a scan button, and an aimer and illuminator generated by the smartphone's built-in camera flash, create an ease of use that a rugged non-scanning case cannot match.

Scanning case-based solutions are relevant across many industries and situations. In logistics, they allow staff to use smartphones to scan vast quantities of inventory in warehouse environments, and for delivery purposes, couriers can easily confirm delivery, record customer signatures, and utilise a smartphone's built-in GPS and communication capabilities.

In retail, cases combined with software-based scanning capabilities, allow high-volume scanning of barcodes. This supports activities such as stock-taking, markdowns and shipping/receiving. Retailers can track products at every step, from source to shelf to purchase. Staff can record the location and availability of items for store-level fulfilment of online orders and of course customers and staff can scan barcodes to obtain detailed product information.

No one mobile scanning accessory is the right choice for every enterprise. But smartphones are an affordable, usable and multipurpose barcode scanning solution and with a scanning case they can now be deployed in almost any scanning environment.

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