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Can smartphones be used in warehouses?

Have you thought of using barcode scanning for business operations? This idea has been on the rise in the modern retail, wholesale and manufacturing industries. What about using your smartphone as the main device in your barcode scanning system? 

Some years ago, this wasn’t a feasible alternative. The first smartphone apps that were developed for barcode scanning emerged on the market right after first smartphones were launched. However, in terms of speed, accuracy and ease of use, the smartphone scanning apps were far behind professional barcode scanning devices.

Fast forward to the year 2021. Is smartphone scanning still a toy solution or is it a real alternative to professional scanners? Below is a concise overview of the technological developments within smartphone barcode scanning in recent years.

Better Smartphone Performance in Dim Light

Years ago, the main obstacle for smartphone camera scanning was low speed. To scan a barcode quickly with a camera, fast autofocus is required. This in turn requires more light to enter into the camera’s sensor. A few years ago, dim lighting conditions prevented smartphone scanning apps from focusing on barcodes. Today, smartphone lenses let in twice as much light compared to only 7 years ago and barcode scanning via smartphone cameras can be done in a much broader range of lighting conditions. Additionally, good performance cameras are no longer reserved for only the top of the line smartphone models.

Transmitting Scanned Data to an IT-system

The second obstacle for smartphone scanning has been the ability to export scanned data to an IT-system. Most smartphone apps have supported data transmission to Excel. Even in cases where more options have been available, the issue of integration with an ERP system has remained unsolved. Solving this problem has become possible, but requires the work and support of IT specialists, which result in significant additional investments. In&Out’s smartphone scanning solution provides a full solution. All scanned registrations along with additional data entries are transformed into ERP-system documents. This is an integral part of our solution and is achieved with modest data integration investment.

Distinct Advantages of Smartphone Scanning

When looking at the factors that distinguish smartphone scanning solutions from traditional scanning solutions, there are several significant advantages for smartphone scanning. Smartphone devices are always connected to a network, and thus are always ready to use. It doesn’t matter where you scan with your smartphone; it can be at a trade show, in a worksite, in the woods, etc. You can perform scans in places where you previously couldn’t because a scanning system had to be pre-installed (network, computers, electricity, etc). When using smartphone scanning, there is no need to set up a system. The scanning system works even when you are temporarily out of range of a network.

Smartphone scanning gives access to functionalities that aren’t available in traditional scanning solutions. For instance, if you discover an unknown barcode, you can take a picture of it and send it to the system administrator. If you scan an item in a specific geographical location, you can use GPS coordinates to identify the object and send scanning and geographical data to your company’s ERP-system. In future blogposts we will reveal additional scenarios where smartphone scanning offers opportunities that don’t exist in traditional barcode scanning solutions.

Smartphones Combined with Smart People WIN

Before implementing a smartphone scanning solution, four topics need to be considered:

  1. Battery life. Using a smartphone camera for barcode scanning uses a lot of battery capacity. When you need to scan hundreds or thousands of barcodes each day, a good battery life and fast charging capabilities are relevant considerations.
  2. Reliability. Smartphones are fragile devices compared to robust warehouse scanners. The latter will easily survive 1.5-meter drops onto concrete floors. Drops like these will happen, so small investments into silicone cases and thermal glasses are both reasonable and inevitable. Fortunately, recent advancements in the smartphone technology have resulted even higher durability ratings for example Samsung Galaxy S series than some industrial devices.
  3. Mobile data plan. We sometimes hear concerns about increasing mobile data plans. The reasoning goes that smartphone scanning solutions require increased mobile data exchange and therefore may require more costly mobile data plans. Our experience shows that this is rarely the case because barcode data and product data don’t use a lot of capacity. High data usage is only the case when additional data is sent to the server, like pictures of the products. Only in these cases do larger data plans need to be considered.
  4. Confidentiality. If your company’s confidentiality protocol restricts the use of smartphones in the warehouse or in the production environment, then smartphone scanning solutions are not for you.

Although traditional scanners have some advantages and are sometimes the preferred device for scanning, the development in smartphone scanning has come a long way. Today, the sophistication of smartphone scanning has reached a level where only a few circumstances exist when smartphone scanning performance lags traditional scanning.

Remember, this is a scanning solution that is always in your pocket and ready to be used!