Rugged Android PDA Scanner
Hi there and welcome to our world of PDA Barcode Scanners. If you are about to invest into these pda scanners, then this blog is a must read. What you need to know before you buy, will be covered here. I can guarantee you will fully armed with an arsenal of knowledge to help you make the right deciscions for your company.
We have been in this industry for over 12yrs now and have seen some major changes take place within our industry for these products.
The evolution of pda barcode scanners continues to develop at break neck speed, with prices coming down and features going up. There are Dos Text, Windows CE, Windows Mobile and now Windows Embedded Handheld operating systems to choose from. Android is another choice we are seeing now for rugged handheld PDA scanners.
I have to admit, i am a big fan of Android so will try and stay impartial. But i cannot wait for a more Android PDA scanners to come on to the market. The reason is they have power and speed to burn…….and….they use HTML 5 browsers. Windows CE and Windows Mobile tends to use IE browsers. IE is getting a bit antiquated and slow especially for using with Wi-Fi. IE has no cache so if you are typing in a browser to search for something, it does not suggest something. Nor does it store any memory if you are moving between access points so it will not store/save the last scan……grrrr. So if you are going for Windows OS PDAs……make sure they have HTML 5 browsers.
Firstly, pda barcode scanners get called many names. Within our industry, they get called Mobile Computers, Portable Data Terminals (PDTs), Portable Data Entry Terminals, pocket computers and Handheld Computers. Outside our industry, the customer looking for them, frequently call them a scanner. Which is the first mistake and lesson they need to learn. A barcode scanner can only scan the barcode item #. That’s it! A pda bar code scanner can scan a barcode ID # + capture qty, location #, date/time stamp, signature capture, take a photo, get GPS locations and much more.
So where do we start? Well…..every time a new customer comes to us, the questions are pretty much all the same. But the answers can be quite varied. So we start by making the customer understand that there are two components involved here. Hardware and software. One cant work without the other. We start by asking?
1. What is the application? Asset Management, Inventory Control – Stocktaking, Fields Sales Force Mobility, Job Tracking….etc etc?
Its important to identify the application so we can lay the foundations for what type of hardware and software will be required.
2. Can the data collected, be stored on the PDA barcode scanner and uploaded later into a cradle?
Collecting data and storing it on the PDA scanner is called batching. Or batch scanner. The pda scanner after scanning, has to be put into a communication cradle where the data can then be uploaded into their system. It is generally considered to be the cheapest solution when considering PDA scanners as the integration is usually quite low in cost compared to PDA scanners that have to communicate via Wi-Fi/GPRS/3G.
3. Is it mission critical that you need information live via Wi-Fi or 3G network to send and receive data? If the pda barcode scanner requires a live interface, then how are you going to communicate to your back end?
If information needs to be live and you need to query a database, then you need either a Wi-Fi or 3G capability with the PDA scanner. Here are a couple of typical scenarios for wireless connectivity.
1. W-Fi – 802.11b/g/n. – The PDA will need Wi-Fi capabilities for it to utilise the existing wireless network to communicate. There are also a number of ways the PDA is connected back thru the Wi-Fi network.
- Using the browser on the PDA to connect to a web based application.
- Building an application that will reside on the PDA scanner so when user clicks icon/app on PDA scanner, it connects back to host.
- Running a telnet client on the PDA. Still seeing a lot of legacy systems such as AS400 systems running telnet servers. Particularly very large companies. These systems are rock solid and never experience the problems that Windows based systems face. The PCs become a dumb terminal. So does the PDA scanner.
- Remote Desktop Connection.
We are also seeing more companies utilise PDAs that have 3G capabilities. Buying a 3G Sim card and inserting it into PDA scanner to send data as well as using as a mobile phone. Primarily 3G connectivity is used out in the field but we are also seeing this used within the four walls if there is no existing wireless network.
Speeds are also increasing on the 3G network. You will see many devices offering 3G – 3.5G – 3.75G and 4G speeds or close to it.
There are also a number of devices in the market that have GPRS (2.5G). Very reliable but not great and too slow if you want the device to send large files, images, video streaming, VOIP, etc etc. Certainly not the right choice if you need to send data and voice. Only choose GPRS if all you need to do is send small packets of data.
4. Do you have to develop software for the application? This is always a very important consideration when looking at providing a data collection solution and choosing which type of hardware is best for your application.
If you only need the data to be collected (batch solution) and uploaded back into excel or a designated location folder on the network, you might be able to use some great free data collection software tools available out there. It might save you thousands of dollars for software development.
We use a tool called Forge Application Generator. It helps us develop simple data collection applications such as multiple fields that the user will be prompted to scan and collect data for. It also allows you to create menus for multiple applications. The whole point is its free!!! You don’t need to be a software developer (mucho deniro saved $$$) and you can upload back into excel or as a text file into a designated location on the customers PC or network. How cool is that?
However, if you have more complex data collection requirements, then forget these tools. If the data collected, needs to uploaded seamlessly into a database, then an application has to be written for this. Most developers program in C++ or .Net these days so stick to Windows based PDA scanners. There are also many developers coming out for Android based O/S PDA scanners. Stay away from Dos text propriety terminals as the code has to be written in C or Basic. Too slow. Programmers are almost all dead that write in that language…..lol. Well late 50s, early 60s. And from experience, everything just seems to take longer to get an application written. With the tools available like Visual Basic, the developers are much more proficient in programming, so costs come down! Costs for developing for Android devices maybe much lower as Android is open source. Definitely worth checking out!
5. Already have Software and Want the PDA scanner to talk to it? For a PDA scanner to talk to your software, our best advice is that you need to talk to your software vendor first. Only they can provide you this answer. You do not want companies other than your software vendor, trying to bolt on third party applications and messing up your databases.
Your software vendor will need to have developed an application that can be loaded on to your PDA scanner, so your PDA scanner can talk directly with its database.
If it’s a web based application, then all the PDA scanner needs to do is use its browser. Hopefully the application will be mobile responsive so the correct screen size can be viewed and the data easily seen on the screen without having to scroll.
If your software vendor does not have anything created (which is usually the case) then its like reinventing the wheel and could be quite costly. Most companies in this situation decide to go for a standalone inventory control solution where the PDA scanner can talk to its database. Or go for a batch solution (as mentioned in point 4).
6. What is the environment that the PDA scanner is to be used? Consider the environment that the PDA barcode scanner is going to be used in. Look at the technical brochure for the PDA and check out the drop rating and IP rating. The higher the drop rating and IP rating, means the higher the robustness. Usually also more expensive. For warehousing applications, , go for a minimum of 1.5m drop rating and minimum of IP54. For applications outside the four walls, the higher the IP rating the better. Seeing devices out there with IP64 and IP65 so very resilient to dust, dirt and water.
For clean carpeted environments, you can get away with lower IP ratings and drop ratings.
7. Local Service & Support? Do not invest in expensive hardware like PDA barcode scanners if you cannot get local service and support. You are asking for trouble if you go and buy your hardware from overseas to save a few dollars. In the long run, it could cost you much much more doing this.
To finish off this blog we would like to point out one more critical piece of information. Probably the biggest mistake people/companies make when choosing a PDA barcode scanner. Some customers come to us looking for a PDA scanner and then later go looking for their application software. They have got it all backwards. Biggest mistake is investing in the hardware first and then trying to tie it into the application software later on. Find the right application software for your business first. Make sure it also has capabilities of being able to communicate with a PDA scanner. This way you save thousands on having to write any integration software for the PDA scanner. The application software will usually have a client piece of software that loads on to the PDA scanner, giving it the capabilities to sync with the applications software database.
We really hope this blog helps you in your decisions and saves you making any costly mistakes. Look forward to hearing back if this was of any help to you!