5 Tips for Choosing the Right Mobile Barcode Scanning SDK

mobile SDK code on a laptop

Barcodes have moved from grocery aisles and shipping labels onto everything from print ads to instructional materials. This is due to the rapid evolution of mobile barcode scanning devices, from handheld scanners to mobile computers and now smartphones. Barcodes enable inventory management, product tracking and traceability, marketing, and workflow management. They deliver on the promise of creating more efficient work environments, improving throughput, growing sales and revenue, and more.

With the growing demand for mobile application development has come the explosion of software tools for mobile applications. Choosing the best barcode reading software development kit (SDK) can be a daunting task for application development teams. Here are five simple tips to help guide you through the SDK discovery process, so you can make an informed decision for your business.

1. Define your requirements

Often, when an application developer is tasked with building a new application, they are asked to “include barcode scanning capabilities.” Before starting the search for a barcode scanning SDK, discuss the exact requirements with your internal stakeholders. Ask questions like:

  • What is most important to you? Ease of data collection, improved accuracy, faster processing?
  • What type of user experience (UX) is needed? Intuitive interface, portrait and/or landscape scanning mode?
  • What are the environmental conditions? Lighting, inside a building or outside, scanning distance?
  • What symbologies will need to be scanned? UPC, Code 39, Data Matrix, QR code, multiple codes simultaneously?

2. Determine the required flexibility

In other words, is the SDK easy to integrate into your existing application and does it allow you to tailor the look and feel according to your brand’s standards? Be sure the chosen SDK allows you to meet your enterprises’ guidelines for colors, logos, and look and feel as well as copyright and trademark acknowledgment. Some software products require you to include their copyright and trademark notices within your application or even force you to display an extraneous logo. These types of solutions may be in conflict with your organization’s branding policies and goals. Look for an SDK that gives you complete control over the user interface for barcode scanning.

Many mature barcode SDK products offer rich usage tracking and data analytics for your barcode scanning applications—but be wary of these services: be sure they are optional, and their operation doesn’t interfere with your application’s performance or violate your organization’s privacy policies. Some barcode SDK offerings claim ownership of collected data or charge a premium to disable the analytics portion of their product.

3. Select a mobile operating system

The mobile operating system or systems on which you plan to deploy your application play an important role in SDK selection. While iOS® and Android® may be a given, consider whether your target audience is using Tier 2 platforms such as a Windows® Phone or Blackberry®. Even if your initial deployment is only on one or two of the most popular mobile platforms, you may want to choose an SDK that has broad operating system support to meet future needs. There are several SDK options available for both Android and iOS but only a few support a broad spectrum of mobile (and desktop) operating systems. If you will be using an application framework like Cordova or Xaramin, consider a barcode SDK that is explicitly supported by the framework. Having an SDK that has already been tested and integrated with your framework of choice can save countless hours of learning and frustration, as well as avoid compatibility issues.

4. Inquire about the decoding features

A good mobile barcode SDK will do far more than just decode a barcode from a captured image. It should offer a broad set of advanced features for controlling the mobile camera and tuning the scanning experience. Here are just a few of the features you should look for:

  • Broad barcode symbology support. There are dozens of barcode types commonly used worldwide today, everything from QR codes used in sales and marketing, PDF417 used in government IDs, to the commonplace UPC/EAN barcodes found on consumer packaged goods. A robust SDK can decode all major barcode symbologies.
  • Omni-directional scanning capability. Just because your user holds their smartphone in a landscape orientation shouldn’t mean that the barcode itself should be in a landscape orientation, or that the barcode cannot be upside down or at an angle to the camera frame. A good decoder will handle barcodes in just about any orientation, irrespective of the angle to the camera.
  • Advanced camera features. Robust barcode decoding solutions leverage the advanced features of the mobile device camera. These include use of the LED flash as a light source (for low light situations) or aiming pattern, enabling (and even disabling) the autofocus, and use of any zoom feature. Be sure to look for these features in the SDK solution you choose.

5. Understand the total cost of ownership

It’s always tempting to source the least expensive option available. Since the best solutions go beyond price, investigate the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the SDK. Many commercial products offer lifetime support and upgrades for an annual or monthly fee. Others require an annual or monthly license fee just to continue using their SDK. Be sure when you compute TCO you include costs over the entire life of your application, not just the initial investment in software and development.

Be sure the SDK is well supported. While open source solutions may look attractive in terms of initial investment, those savings can evaporate quickly if you find yourself without integration support, or worse, facing defective or inadequate software with no vendor to correct it. Also, look for the added resources of a network of developers using the product, copious sample code, knowledge bases, and case studies.

Choose an SDK that saves your developers time, without sacrificing features and functionality. The best barcode SDKs provide a consistent application programming interface (API) across platforms; they support a wide variety of programming languages; they have already been integrated and tested with popular application development frameworks; and, they don’t restrict or limit how your application performs or looks.

A mobile barcode reading SDK can enable a world of possibilities and armed with the tips above, your organization can find the best solution for your barcode scanning applications. For information, download the Cognex Mobile Barcode SDK datasheet.

Steve Kearns

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