MBW 817: You Can't Touch This

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One use for the iPod Touch was as a barcode scanner. There were a few companies providing industrial laser scanners for scanning 2D and 3D (QR) codes, for logistics purposes, mainly. The laser scanner “shoe” was a traditional scanner “gun” with a fixture to hold the iPod Touch flat at the top, to be used with dedicated logistics apps.

You can buy Windows Mobile and Android scanners, but they are usually well into 4 figures, are slow and the security updates are slow, if they get any at all. The iPod Touch + “gun” case was less than half the price of a traditional scanner.

While the camera on the iPod (or a smartphone, for that matter) can scan 2D and 3D barcodes, they are poorly designed for such activities, you have to get close to the barcode and hold the device steady, wait for the camera to focus, then press the “shutter” button, say 2-5 seconds per code. With the laser scanner, you can scan from up to 10M away from the code and it is read instantly, as soon as you wave the scanner in the general direction of the barcode and press the trigger button, it takes less than 1/10 of a second on average. When you are scanning hundreds or thousands of codes a day, those seconds quickly add up!

E.g. the picker goes out with the scanner-device (iPod+shoe or traditional Windows Mobile or Android scanner), logs himself on by scanning his ID badge, and the app then shows him which bay to go to, he scans the code for the bay, the scanner then tells him which product to pull off the shelf, he scans the code and confirms the quantity pulled, the app sends the information on the booked out goods directly to the ERP system.

Companies which use these custom iPod Touch applications will now need to look for other, more expensive devices and re-write their logistics apps for the new platforms, if they aren’t using web pages.

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As long as Google is involved with FIDO, I don’t trust it.

Still have my iPod - it’s been connected to the car for years with my whole music library loaded on it. Been in my last 5 cars actually and still going strong :slightly_smiling_face: I must bring it in one day and check for any updates. The battery is shot though, only works when plugged in.


Is there some fundamental limitation in the configuration of, say, the current iPad Mini that precludes its 12MP camera from doing lightning-fast barcode scans? There’s plenty of CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine resources in an A15 to do some remarkably-fast adaptive image scanning. It’s just a question of iPadOS software that knows how to do that quickly. The economics and added reliability of removing a separate hardware scanner would make scanning-optimized camera software a real winner.

No, probably not. On the other hand, it’s not really pocketable now is it. (For most average pockets.)

Apart from the mini being too big and unwieldy to add to a “gun” mount, it suffers the same problems as the iPod Touch, it uses a camera. Laser scanners use a completely different technology that does just one thing, but does it incredibly quickly and incredibly well.

Because it uses lasers and a special sensor, it doesn’t need to search for the barcode and it doesn’t need to focus, it just uses reflected laser light. That means, you swing it up, press the trigger and you have read your barcode. Less than 1/10th of a second.

With an iPod, iPad mini or any other camera, you need to swing up the device, aim it accurately at the bar code, focus the camera (even the autofocus of modern smartphones & tablets is incredibly slow, in comparison to the complete scan process of a dedicated laser scanner), press the “shutter” button, wait for the exposure - and if it is too dark, hold the camera steady for a second, or be blinded by the flash. All of that takes a couple of seconds. That makes any camera system inefficient, compared to a dedicated barcode scanner.

Laser scanners are literally point-and-click, whereas even a point-and-click camera requires you to frame the barcode (the scanner has a much wider scan radius), focus the image and wait for the exposure/read time (again, there is no exposure time as such for the scanner).

Naturally, they aren’t 100% reliable, with worn or damaged barcodes and the user will need to occasionally enter the code manually (and a camera system won’t be any better in those cases), but a laser scanner can probably scan at least 4 barcodes in the same time as a camera system can scan 1 code. Again, when you are talking about hundreds or thousands of scans a day, that is a huge difference in the amount of time an operator needs or how many operators are needed, even.

Yes, I saw this the first time you said it. I asked you: is this really the case? Is there something inherent in the atoms of an A15 iPad Mini that precludes it from providing barcode scanning with much more rapidity and reliability? Did you even try the existing barcode apps for iOS? Do they really take “2-5 seconds” on average to perform scans? Where does your estimated 4/1 speed ratio come from? Did you perform that test yourself? If not, where do those numbers come from?

Who in the industry is really concerned about portable scanner device size? Couldn’t those workers have cute little coveralls the an iPad-Mini pocket? How about a laser scanner connected with Bluetooth?

In the scale of problems, this doesn’t look like a biggie…

When is the last time you added music to it?

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Yes, I tested it, iPhone and iPad here. The problem is the camera, as long as you are using a camera, instead of a proper scanner, you won’t reach the efficiency.

On the iPhone 13 Pro, 1.5 seconds to locate, focus and scan a code, good lighting conditions, clear ISBN code. The iPad took 4 seconds the first time, same code same lighting, and failed to interpret the code, the second time, around 2 seconds.

It just doesn’t compare to a real barcode scanner.

As to the form factors, they are “guns” for a reason, they fit in a holster, or hang from the shoulder and can be raised and the trigger pressed in one flowing motion, you don’t need to line the scanner up on the barcode, just sweep it over the code. With the iPad/iPod, you need to bring it up in the correct orientation and make sure the barcode is centred on the screen.

The iPad is just doesn’t have the required ergonomics to be used efficiently in the logistics arena. They also don’t generally respond well to being smashed against cases, shelving units or forklifts, or being regularly dropped on the ground.

For shops or small businesses, they might be fine, for a professional logistics operation, there are simply better, more efficient devices on the market.

3 years ago :slightly_smiling_face: All I do is stream now.

Who says what are “real” barcode scanners? Are Bluetooth scanners “real” barcode scanners?

All these can be done with BT scanners.

What exactly wouldn’t work with a BT scanner talking with secured computation devices – like an iPad? We can’t tell if that meets your “required ergonomics”, because you’ve never posted a list of what those are supposed to be.

Rather than present a moving target, the best response would be to show us where organizations using scanners professionally have published a list of their “required ergonomics”.

There is a huge difference between a laser scanning barcode scanner (i.e. absorbed/reflected light) and a picture taking CMOS scanner. Using a laser also allows for the scanner to sweep over time, whereas taking a picture doesn’t give this useful contrast enhancing advantage.


The industry defines what a real barcode scanner is, and it is the scanning technology, not how it is connected to a device that determines whether it is a “real” scanner or just a camera with scanning software.

The first post related to a gun mount with laser scanner for an iPod Touch, that could connect via Bluetooth or a Lightning port - ISTR there were two versions, back then. At the end of the day, most scanners, as opposed to MDEs, just expose a standard HID interface to the host and send the interpreted barcode as standard ASCII characters. Yes, they can understand different types of barcode and the processing to read some complex types of barcodes and 3D codes (QR codes) is needed, but the end result output is just a stream of characters.

My current employer has robust Windows tablets mounted on the moving scales (mini forklifts with a scale built into the base to weigh the raw materials they collect from the warehouse and take to the mixing area) and Symbol wireless scanners, sending the scanned code to the tablets via Bluetooth. The previous versions were connected via USB cables, and before that serial cables.

I got them for my grandkids so we could FaceTime

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To answer Andy’s question, the poster with the iPod clipped to the 1984 lady’s shorts was given out at the Macworld 2004 keynote. It was issued to celebrate the Mac’s twentieth anniversary.

Like Andy, I have mine framed and hung with pride in my home office:

You can see the whole of the revised 1984 video near the start of the keynote (about 3 minutes 45 seconds in): Macworld 2004 San Francisco - YouTube