Is a Mobile Barcode Scanner Right for my Business?

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Today, we use smartphones in nearly all aspects of life — communicating with loved ones, shopping for nearly anything, watching television showsthe list is seemingly endless. In recent years, the use of smartphones has also expanded into the daily workflows of many industriesThis is because Android and iOS smartphones have become ubiquitous, replacing pen and paper, calculators, personal computers, cameras, and even specialty devices like surveying equipment. Even barcode scanners now have mobile capabilities, making them accessible to more businesses than ever before.

However, even purpose-built barcode scanners that are critical to the operations of many industries, may no longer need to be traditional fixed-mount scannersYour application may be best suited for the advantages of mobile barcode scanners.

Mobile barcode scanners that you see today (e.g., smartphones paired with barcode scanning software or a software development kit (SDK) can perform image-based barcode readingfeature a high-resolution camera, along with fast processing and decoding. They’re cost effective, easy to use, scalable, and can be activated on employees’ existing devices, making them a good fit for companies that need to get up and running quickly with barcode scanning capabilities. 

For example, delivery drivers may need to quickly scan a barcode on a customer’s drivers license. However, that delivery person doesn’t need a ruggedhandheld barcode scanner since they don’t work in an industrial environment, and their company doesn’t need to spend money issuing complex devices that would require training the fleet. Rather, that driver should be able to easily use their own smartphone to scan the license, with minimal training and set up.

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Here are the main advantages of mobile barcode scanningstrategies for choosing between mobile and traditional handheld scanners, and common applications for mobile scanning.

Benefits of mobile barcode scanning

1.Cost effectiveMost smartphone-based scanning software and tools are cost effective and flexible in their payment models. Scanning software is a subscription, billable monthly or annually. Smartphones are available in a wide range of price points depending on the number of features if new devices are needed. But, more likely than not, employees already have a personal and/or work-issued smartphone in their possession. 

2.Scalable: Since smartphones are multi-purpose, allowing enterprises to purchase devices that can be recirculated and repurposed when the demand changes, like when the holiday season ends. It is also fast and easy to acquire and set up smartphones when there is an urgent need to scale. 

3.Easy to Use: Since most people use iOS and Android smartphones daily, they are familiar with the operating systems and general functions of the devices. Using a smartphone as a scanner is just as easy as taking a picture of your family — aim, point, and click. Beyond this, many people are already users of smartphone-based scanning as it integrates into our everyday lives. For example, since restaurants began opening after Covid-related closures, scanning a QR code to view menu has become commonplace. Consumers also use scanning on their phones to check prices or get more information about products in retail stores.

4.Bring your own device (BYODmodel: BYOD refers to employees using their personally owned devices to access enterprise applications and data. Many enterprises have adopted a BYOD model for scanning and productivity devices. To the employer, this reduces the cost of the device, leaving only the scanning application. For employees, this model makes it easier for them to interact with enterprise applications, since they are accessible on the devices they are already used to.

When to choose a mobile scanner vs. a traditional handheld scanner

Smartphones can be a low-cost, scalable solution for many applications and industries, but it’s important to know when smartphones are the best fit versus dedicated scanning hardwareThis chart is a good starting resource to determine which scanner features are the best fit for your application.

Applications for Smartphones

Applications for Traditional Handheld Scanners

Low-volume Scanning

Employees scan less than 50 times per hour. Smartphones work well when used sparingly and in workflows that include other activities between scans.

High-volume Scanning

Employees scan more than 50 times per hour. Ergonomically, it can be straining to hold a phone upright and look through the screen to aim. For these applications, overhead presentation readers or handheld barcode readers would be most effective.


Battery life is an advantage for traditional hand helds; in high-volume scanning environmentssmartphones and even tablets often do not have enough battery power to last a full day or even a modest shift.

Barcodes on Labels

Barcodes are printed on labels with minimal damage. Although smartphone-based scanning products are impressive in their ability to read damaged codes, they perform best with well-formed and well-printed codes.

Difficult Barcodes

Many industries use Direct Part Marking (DPM) techniques to put barcodes directly onto the product or material being tracked. These applications often required specialized lighting found only on dedicated scanning hardware. Barcodes can also be difficult if they have extreme damage, even if they are printed on labels. Handheld barcode readers are usually best suited for severe damage.

Light/Moderate Environments

Applications that get normal wear-and-tear, short tumblesand no exposure to the elements are best for smartphones.

Harsh Environments

Some industries have harsh environments where devices can be dropped repeatedly or subjected to harsh oils or chemicals. In these cases, there are handheld scanners purpose-built to handle these applications.

Common applications for mobile barcode scanners:
  • Automotive: VIN scanning

  • Banking: loan applications

  • Consumerretail product information lookup

  • Delivery: small package, home services, age verification

  • Food and Beverageinventory/distribution

  • Healthcaredrug tracking/inventory, at-home Covid-19 tests

  • Retailshopping assistant, price lookup

  • Transportationin-flight food and beverage sales, boarding pass scanning

  • Freightless-than-truckload (LTL) pickup and delivery

When talking about barcode scanning, it’s important to remember that these devices are part of a larger ecosystem. A barcode usually has a long chain of scanning conducted by different devices along the way. It’s important to choose the correct device for the application, whether it’s a fixed-mount barcode system for a conveyor line, a presentation reader for a packout station, a handheld reader for DPM codes in manufacturing, or a smartphone for scanning in the field. 

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In terms of whether to choose a mobile barcode scanner, it will ultimately depend on your applicationand the lifecycles of your product barcodes. With thbenefits mobile scanners provide, they are starting to align more and more with fast-paced consumer-facing businesses that require flexibility and low hardware costs. Even if you’ve already deployed traditional handheld scanners in parts of your business, it’s worth considering whether you have other applications that would benefit from mobile scanners.


Trevor Bernier




Cognex は世界中でお客様のビジョンと工業用バーコドリーダのあらゆるニーズをサポートしています。