P&G Backs Mobile Barcode Scan Approach, But Few Retailers Can Afford To Wait

Written by Evan Schuman
January 4th, 2012

As the quantity of mobile POS interactions continues to soar—whether they’re payments, coupons, CRM or something else—it’s a rare retailer who has avoided the maddening inability of laser scanners to reliably grab data off a smartphone. Consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble has moved into this argument, pushing a mobile scan approach based on using functionality that could be placed within handset hardware or mobile operating systems.

The good news is that this approach, in theory, will be free to retailers, because it will not necessitate any store IT changes at all. The problem—and it’s a deal-killer—is timing. Given the logistics involved, getting enough phones and mobile OSs using this approach into the hands of enough consumers to be meaningful is likely to take years. That’s an unacceptable delay for most retailers, who would rather take a short-term cost hit and upgrade their laser scanners. With the mobile onslaught, quick is almost certainly going to trump free.

In almost any other retail situation, strong support from the $83 billion P&G would be huge. In this instance, though, P&G has little influence where it matters: getting these upgraded devices and mobile OSs out to the market.

That will be dictated by how quickly handset vendors and mobile OS companies adopt these changes, how quickly those compliant devices are offered for sale and—this is the most crucial part—how quickly consumers buy those devices. Even if phone and mobile OS players move extremely quickly to roll out new versions, consumers replace their phones on their own timetables.

There’s also the chicken-and-egg factor: If enough retailers start upgrading their scanners to be immediately more mobile-friendly, it will make handset manufacturers feel less of a need to accelerate.

The new approach is being pushed by a San Francisco-based vendor called Mobeam, and the company said its approach works by leveraging a light source within the phone manipulated (either by the phone’s firmware or by the mobile OS) into a light beam that today’s older scanners will recognize.

What type of light sources within the phone?


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