Barcode Inventory System For Small Business: Smartphones vs Barcode Scanners

Barcode inventory management software is much more efficient than inventory system based on manual entries. Barcode scanning speeds up inventory management process and eliminates entry errors. Now traditional barcodes are gradually being replaced with QR codes. Are there any advantages or drawbacks in using QR codes over UPC barcodes for inventory management and asset tracking? The answer is - in most cases it does not make much of a difference which type of barcode you are using: traditional UPC barcode, QR code or other type. More important distinction is in the scanning devices - traditional barcode scanners, smartphones or smartphones connected to a barcode scanner.


barcode scanning inventory management

What are UPC Barcodes?

upc barcode

UPC (Universal Product Code) barcode is the barcode you see on most products. It is often called "manufacturer's barcode." The encoded number uniquely identifies the line item. It will be the same number for all companies that produce, store or sell this product.
UPC barcode is one dimensional (1D) linear barcode consisting of black and white stripes. Using this type of barcode you can encode only letters and numbers and only up to 16 characters. If your inventory or assets already have barcode from the manufacturer, most likely that's UPC barcode.

What are QR Codes?

qr code

QR (Quick Response) code is a 2 dimensional (2D) barcode that can fit significantly more information (up to 4,296 alphanumeric characters) and diverse data. For example, in QR code you can encode binary data as well, such as small images. Although you can encode a lot of information in QR code, if you want QR code to be dynamic (you want to be able to change data that user sees or sends without re-printing QR code label), you will need to encode a unique item ID and fetch associated data from the database.

QR Code and Barcode Scanning Equipment

People often associate QR code scanning with a smartphone, and barcode scanning with a traditional barcode scanner. This is not entirely correct. You can use smartphones to scan both QR codes and UPC barcodes. Similarly, you can use most of the modern barcode scanners to scan both UPC barcodes and QR codes. Not all barcode scanners are capable of scanning QR codes, however. In order to do it, you need to purchase a 2D imager -- a scanner that can read both 1D and 2D barcodes.

Does it matter what type of barcode to use for inventory management and asset tracking? There is a slight difference: QR codes can be scanned more reliably with a smartphone camera, and QR code can fit more data. However, what makes the most difference is not what kind of barcode to use, but what to use as a scanner: regular barcode scanner or a smartphone.


Barcode Scanners or Smartphones: What Works Better For Assets / Inventory Management

As it happens often, there are pluses and minuses in both approaches, so the final decision depends on your business environment and goals. You can also use both devices for different tasks.


Advantages of using a smartphone as a scanner for inventory and asset tracking:

  • Wider Coverage Area
    Barcode scanners have to either be plugged into a computer or (wireless type) be in the vicinity of the computer. Using a smartphone you can be anywhere and you still can scan assets and inventory.
  • Money Saving
    If you plan to use barcode scanners, you will need to purchase at list 2-4 of them, plus possibly hire a consultant to connect barcode scanners to the computer (if you need wireless type). With the smartphones you do not need to purchase any extra hardware or do any additional setup - your employees can use their own smartphones to process asset or inventory transactions.
  • More Capabilities
    Smartphone can be used for much more than just scanning - you can also enter and look up information, take images, collect signatures - so it works more like a mobile computer.


Advantages of using traditional barcode scanners:

  • Speed
    Barcode scanners work faster. It won't make any difference if you typically have several items to scan at a time, but for high volume (100+ items) inventory transactions gain in speed is significant.
  • Reliability
    Barcode scanners can scan more reliably in poorly lit areas, although it does depend on a specific model of barcode scanner or a smartphone.
  • Covers More 1D barcodes
    There are certain types of 1D barcodes that cannot be read with a smartphone camera, but you can read them with a traditional barcode scanner.

Check how you can manage inventory stock using a smartphone for barcode / QR code scanning.

Barcode Scanners Connected To A Smartphone

You can combine the advantages of mobile phones and traditional barcode scanners by using barcode scanners that can connect to a smartphone via bluetooth. With this setup, you are not bound to the office computers and can process inventory transactions in the field, as well as use a smartphone for data entry and look up. When it comes to barcode scanning, attached barcode scanner will allow you to do large volume transactions faster and more reliably.

As always, you have several options here. You can purchase a barcode scanner that emulates keyboard, and use it with any inventory management mobile application. The input from such scanners go directly into the focused text field in the application, as if you would type this information in using a keyboard. This, however, takes away advantages in the scanning speed - instead of doing contineous scanning, you will need to get to the input field and put it in focus before each scan.

A better option will be to use inventory management application which integrates directly to a barcode scanner - this will allow you to do contineous uninterrupted scanning. This arrangement, however, often will require you to purchase a specific barcode scanner with which your chosen inventory management mobile application is integrated.

Check how you can use bluetooth barcode scanners and smartphones for mobile inventory management.


In our opinion it is much more beneficial to use smartphones as scanners, especially if most of your employees own them. However, if you need to process high volume inventory or asset transactions (hundreds of items) fast, and do not need to keep track of any additional information, barcode scanners will work better for this situation.

If you need to process high volume inventory transactions in the field or away from the office, smartphone with connected barcode scanner may be your best option. In this case you may want to chose inventory management mobile application which is directly integrated with a barcode scanner, rather then using keyboard emulating barcode scanner. Check with the application vendor which barcode scanner(s) are compatible before purchasing them.

Take Assets And Inventory Under Control With These Software Products

QR Inventory

Inventory management and asset tracking with mobile devices and barcode scanning. Track inventory and assets in the field, warehouse or office in real time. Always know what you have in stock, where your assets are, what projects they were used for. Review usage history and trends, analyze data to improve business process.    Learn More >>

QR Mobile Data

Mobile data collection and workflow tracking. Collect data in the field, on the shop floor or on the job sites using mobile forms. Link mobile forms to your process / workflow. Store digital documents in the secure cloud, give all stakeholders immediate access to collected data from anywhere.    Learn More >>

QR Audit

Physical inventory count and asset audits. Do planned and ad hoc counts using mobile devices for barcode scanning. Complete inventory counts and asset audits in hours rather than days or weeks, eliminate errors and miscounts. Immediately identify discrepancies with "on the books" inventory.    Learn More >>

QR Inventory and QR Mobile Data are brand names of inventory management and mobile forms software by AHG -- a provider of mobile and cloud-based applications for business. Our unified mobile platform improves business operations efficiency by eliminating manual tasks and physical paperwork, while providing a secure cloud storage for the business records, real time access to business data for all stakeholders, comprehensive data reporting and analytics. Headquartered in beautiful Boise, Idaho, AHG software is used to manage hundreds of millions of dollars annually in inventory and assets.

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