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Why "High Performance" Imager in Tablet PC Matters to the Enterprise

(The following blog post is written by Tracey Spoon, Senior Sales Engineer at MobileDemand.) At the local computer/electronics store recently I wanted to check reviews of a wireless router they had on sale for an enticing price.  I whipped out my trusty smart phone and fired-up my little mega online store application and proceeded to try to scan the UPC code on the box.  Tap on the screen to take the snapshot of the label and oops, the box tilted in my hand.  Try again.  Silly me – set the box back on the shelf and this time, oh, uh, took the shot but it’s so blurry it couldn’t decode it.  After a couple of additional attempts moving the phone a little further away and holding my breath to keep the phone really steady and voilà, the sweet beep of a successfully scanned and decoded barcode.  And with that, the picture and links to reviews of the router just as I wanted appeared on the display, all within a matter of just a few slightly frustrating minutes.

For the consumer this scenario is a veritable technological marvel.  To use a smart phone camera to scan a barcode and get information within a couple of minutes or so is amazing.  Not so for the enterprise user trying to do a job, though I’ve known quite a few who’ve tried.   Time is money and productivity is time and money! 

xtablet t1200 imager barcode scanner ea31A barcode imager is a close cousin to a camera.  Basically, it’s a specialized camera and can actually be used to take an “image” of anything just like a camera.  It takes some patience and TLC to get a camera to scan a barcode, and taking a landscape photograph an imager produces something almost recognizable.  It’s a matter of the right tool for the right job.  An imager is designed with special optics and such to allow it to “see” the transitions between dark and light areas and how big those areas are so that the decoding computer (yes, a specialized computer on a chip with a program and all) can figure out that the image is a barcode, what type it is and what information it contains which is then passed on to the host computer for processing.

So, it’s no wonder that an imager does a much better job of scanning barcodes than a camera.  To the enterprise user, their job often depends on being able to trigger, aim and successfully scan a barcode as quickly as possible.  General purpose imagers have been around for a number of years now and have really met the need for many barcode scanning applications.  Imagers are inherently reliable as they have no moving parts and aren’t very power hungry.  But, they do have some shortcomings, too. 

Most standard imagers do a reasonable job but they still take pretty careful positioning when aiming and have to be pretty still in order to get a good scan.  I don’t want to be misleading in any way; they’re night and day compared to cameras.  But, that’s where “high performance” comes in.  The latest generation of high performance imagers has many advantages.  They have extended depth of field so they can read barcodes over a longer distance range, often as much as 60%.  They have enhanced aiming beams so issues with wide fuzzy aimers and not being able to tell which code you’re scanning when there are several codes in close proximity are solved. 

The aimers in todays “high performance” imagers are focused and bright and look very much like laser lines though they’re actually still driven by safe LED’s.  And they also incorporate technology adapted from the photographic world such as electronic stabilization and enhanced motion tolerance.  Of course, decoding hardware and firmware have been enhanced to decode extremely damaged barcodes on the fly as well as neat tricks like scanning multiple barcodes in a single scan if you configure it to do so.

The end result is that the enterprise user can scan barcodes much more rapidly with higher first good read rates which translates into increased productivity.  And all this, with practically no change in package size or price.  Now that’s a deal!


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