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Handheld Barcode Scanners Have Come a Long Way

by FMS Team


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Barcode scanners have been in use for well over 50 years in both manufacturing and retail and sometimes we forget how far they have come. In the early days they had limited functionality due to being wired and only being able to read a 2D barcode. This is often the version we still think about today when someone mentions a handheld scanner but they have grown into so much more.

You can of course still get low tech 2D scanners and they are still widely used. However in the quest for more efficiency and automation the handheld scanners have become mobile terminals, often with the functionality of a traditional scanner blended with the capabilities of a modern mobile phone.

Based on recent work we have done for some of our manufacturing clients that use these devices, here is a list of some of the benefits of these modern mobile scanning terminals.

A Platform to Build on

Android has now become the operating system of choice on these devices. Although there are a few other proprietary and MS Windows based devices still available. This has opened them up to developers who can now put full blown apps onto them. Some of the benefits include:


Only authorised people can use the scanner.


You can track who is using the scanner but even more importantly based on their login credentials you can make sure they only have access to the parts of the app they need for their job.


A well designed app should lead the user through the processes they are doing, reducing training requirements.

Error Detection:

Having a screen allows early detection of errors and feedback of those to the user. You no longer have to go back to a computer terminal to see the results of what has been done.


The apps on the scanner can grow with your business. With many modern scanners you can connect to a private version (not visible to the public) of the Google Play store so the apps can be updated remotely over the air. This removes the issue of finding all the scanners and connecting them to a computer to update them.


Although it is limited by the functionality of the scanner, apps can be as feature rich as any mobile app you have used.

A Variety of Inputs

Although they can still be used as a scanner, they offer a number of other input methods, including:


The scanners now offer much more flexibility; they can still read the 2D barcodes but can also scan 3D codes (such as QR codes) which can store much more information in the actual code.

Touch Screen:

Touch screen is a great way of both navigating through the app but also adding more information outside of the scanning functionality.


A lot of these devices use a camera for scanning and they are of sufficient quality that they can also be used for photos and video. Photos can be an important part of the documentation required for a manufacturer, for example quality control. More recently we have seen it used as part of the regulatory requirements for international shipping by containers, where a photo is needed at several points during loading.


Although digital keyboards are taking over from physical keys to allow for bigger screens, we do have clients that still like keys to be used for input.

Other Features

Some of the other features we have been asked to develop into the handheld apps are:


You are no longer restricted to just a beep from your device. The loudspeaker can be used to give audio feedback on what is happening.

Other sensors:

Nearly all devices will have other sensors in that can be accessed by the app, such as accelerometer which can be used to flip the screen depending on how the device is being held, or GPS for tracking.


Bluetooth or WiFi connectivity is normally included, often both. WiFi allows for a full two-way live connection to other software in your organisation meaning that everyone is looking and using the most up to date data. 

Onboard processing:

Low tech scanners take a simple string of data and send it to a computer that does what it is programmed to do with it. Modern scanners, like computers and mobile phones, have sufficient power to work either completely independently of other devices or more commonly they do some of the processing of data locally and send the results to other devices.


From the above you might think we manufacture or sell handheld scanners. We don’t! Our driving force is to give a competitive edge to our clients by solving complex problems and removing repetitive tasks with the use of modern, simple and easy-to-use software.

We develop in a language (C# using the .NET framework) that allows us to develop all sorts of software including apps for handheld scanners and all mobile devices. The reason we get excited about modern handheld scanners is that they are an integral part of helping our manufacturing clients meet their requirements and when combined with a custom ERP can truly help with their digital transformation. 

If you want to discuss having bespoke functionality on your scanners then please contact us.

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