The barcode itself was conceived nearly 60 years ago in the sand on a beach by a young graduate student named N. Joseph Woodland who was holding a stick and making his now famous design (circular then). That invention sat an orphan for a quarter of a century until an optical laser barcode scanner (reader) was created that could infuse Woodland’s barcode idea with real world utility. After IBM designed the UPC in the early 1970s, the barcode and its scanner began to infest every aspect of our consumable lives.
Barcodes and scanners go together like corks and corkscrews. They complete each other. Both would be, basically, useless without the other. Ai2, a 30 year-old Chicago based business software company knows a bit about barcode scanners and the software that runs them, especially in the field of retailer and sales order management. Over the last decade, Ai2 has sold tens of thousands of PC based laser barcode scanners running their ordering software. Popular devices like Motorola 3100 series. However, over the last several years, Ai2 began to notice a change in its customer base. Their customers were just not as committed to refreshing this hardware but they also were reluctant to surrender the perceived speed advantage of PC based laser barcode scanners. Many of Ai2’s customers were trapped in reluctant marriages to these devices.
Last summer an Ai2 customer who distributes exclusively to the 7/11 store chain asked Ai2 to integrate its iPad order management app, ProSel, to the new Honeywell Captuvo iPad mini Sled (SL62). The customer wanted a little faster scan rate than the Bluetooth scanners were offering. They also wanted to dump the PC based laser barcode scanners they used for the past ten years. At that time, Ai2 did not notice the beginnings of a real shift in the hardware marketplace.
Since last summer, Ai2 overheard on the trade show circuit that the Honeywell Sleds were “blowing-it-up” and taking over the barcode scanners market. Rumors — confirmed since by industry sources — were that Target’s roll-out projections for the Honeywell iPod Sled (SL22) were 53,000 devices. Loews roll-out projections for the Honeywell Sled were 50,000 devices. These are some huge numbers, but what was really going on here? Why would Target replace 9,000 PC based laser barcode scanners with 50,000 iOS based digital imager barcode scanners?
Recently, one of the world’s largest consumer products companies approached Ai2 about running an Ai2 mobile ordering app on the Honeywell iPod Sled. This prospect’s plans, like Target’s, was not to merely replace its PC based laser barcode scanners but to multiply the number by a factor of ten times (10x) via substituting the Honeywell iPod Sled combo running the Ai2 app.
Together, Honeywell and Apple appear to be sitting on the next big, ubiquitous business retail scanning solution. Some of the reasons for the blossoming and ultimate crowning of the combined Honeywell/Apple barcode scanning solution, are, a follows:
- Price. The iPod/Honeywell Sled combination is less than 50% the cost of higher-end, PC based laser scanners;
- Omni-direction scanning. The Honeywell Sled can scan barcodes upside down; sideways and even if the barcodes are highly damaged;
- 2D barcodes. The codes that looks kind-of like a “Rorschach” ink spot test. 2D barcodes contain much more information than a 1D UPCs. Laser scanners really can’t read 2D barcodes very well;
- Real World Scan Rate. Honeywell conducted its own sort of “Pepsi Challenge” to test the real world scan rates of its Sleds. Kiosks containing 30 different types of barcodes were setup. Unsuspecting passerby were handed barcode scanners and asked to scan 30 barcodes as fast as they could. Half the passerby used the Honeywell Sled. The other half used competitive barcode scanners. The results of these tests showed that the real world scan rate of the Honeywell Sled was almost 40% faster than the scan rate of competitive barcode scanners, and
- Future-proofing. The ability to read the barcodes of today and the barcodes of tomorrow (2D, 3D). The fact that the iPod iOS is completely familiar to the younger work force and requires no training to use. The fact that the iPod is not a single-dedicated device. When Target was using 9,000 laser barcode scanners company wide, those devices were being shared among all of its employees. Put an iPod with a Sled into an employee’s hands and they can run dozens of other useful apps that promote a better customer experience. The reason Target went from 9,000 laser barcode scanners to a projection of 50,000 iPod/Sled scanners is that Target is future-proofing. Target is going to put this combo device into the hands of every single in-store employee it has. It will transform Target and its consumer will love it.
N. Joseph Woodland — the inventor of the barcode — died just a few years ago in 2012. Even he could not have possibly imagined where the results of his doodling in the sand 60 years ago would lead in the three short years since his passing.