Misconceptions abound about scanning the screens of mobile devices.
There are a number of different ways of passing data from a mobile device to another platform in a store environment – 2D barcodes, Microsoft Tag, NFC, Bluetooth, and via Apps – the possiblities are quite broad and are dependent on the application.
Applications in a store environment most often involve passing loyalty or coupon information from a mobile device to a point of sale (POS). The method that arises most in conversation is that which would seem most intuitive to the general population. Can one scan a barcode from the screen of a mobile phone with a scanner at the point of sale?
The answer: it depends. Consider the following examples:
Example 1: A customer approaches a Point of Sale in a store with an Apple iPhone. The customer has scanned an image of their loyalty card into their phone complete with a traditional linear barcode from the back of the physical loyalty card. The cashier has a Handheld Scanner at the POS and attempts to scan the customer’s screen to enter their loyalty information into the system… It won’t work. A traditional handheld or even bioptic scanner will not reliably capture a barcode from the screen of a regular mobile device’s screen. I have personally attempted it many times, in many retail situations with various scanners and mobile devices and screens in stores and in lab environments. The screen is too reflective or does not pick up the contrast in the bars and spaces, no matter how large or bright the image may be. (It may give a positive scan once in a while, but not consistently.) I’ve heard that some iPhone apps get around that by showing the images in certain ways, but I’ve never seen it work live or via any online searching.
Example 2: A customer approaches the boarding gate at an airline terminal with a Blackberry Torch. The customer has downloaded an electronic boarding pass to their phone complete with a 2d barcode. The boarding agent has a Handheld Scanner with a 2d Imager built into it. The customer holds out their device, and the agent scans it with the imager. It will work. In this instance, though the situation appears exactly the same as the first example, the big difference is the the use of the 2d Imager and 2d barcode. A 2d Imager is essentially a camera – better suited to identifying the 2d barcode on the mobile device.
The implication of the formulas above is that the great majority of technology in place at current points of sale will not read barcodes from a mobile device. Most retailers wishing to take advantage of barcode reading from mobile devices will need to invest in new scanning devices.
NOTE: The imager will also read a 1D traditional barcode from the mobile screen. The barcode does not have to be a 2D barcode.