What is handheld computing and data capture?
Handheld computers, also known as mobile computers, handheld terminals and data collection terminals are used in applications where information needs to be collected or a barcode scanned in locations away from a conventional computer or PC, such as in a warehouse. Handheld computers come in a range of designs, sizes and levels of ruggedness, and have the advantage of being able to process the information, either before being passed on to a remote computer or for use by the operator.
Applications for handheld computers include;
- Stock replenishment in shops and supermarkets.
- Booking in, despatch, order picking and stock takes in warehousing and manufacturing.
- Administering drugs in health care.
- Booking in and out items and audits in asset tracking.
- Field sales and delivery (route accounting).
- Law enforcement (e.g. issuing parking tickets).
Which operating systems do handheld computers use?
The type of operating system on the handheld computer will determine your choice of application programs and software development tools. There are two main types of operating system software used in handheld computers, Pocket PC / Windows CE and proprietary operating systems,
- Pocket PC / Windows CE – these are versions of the industry standard Microsoft Windows operating systems, specifically designed for mobile devices with limited memory and small screens (1/4 VGA). These operating systems are becoming increasingly common, with a wide range of applications and development tools available. Windows CE is a subset of Pocket PC, without applications such as Windows Explorer.
- Proprietary or non-standard operating systems are more commonly found on low cost handheld terminals. These devices often come with Application Programme Generators (APGs), which allow simple applications to be quickly and easily developed by non-programmers.
What application software can be used with handheld computers?
There are a wide range of applications and development tools for Pocket PC and Windows CE based PDAs and handheld terminals from suppliers such as AM Labels. The options for application software include,
- Off-the-shelf applications such as Stock Control, Asset Tracking and Field Sales and Delivery.
- Application Programme Generators (APGs). These are designed for non-programmers and allow sophisticated applications to be developed quickly and easily. An example is the MCL-Collection from Zetes. Please call our sales team on 01536 414222 if you would like more information.
- Bespoke programming service from a specialist solution provider such as AM Labels. AM Labels offers a cost effective programming service for applications requiring a dedicated solution.
Examples of previous bespoke solutions developed by AM Labels include;
- Various applications for issuing and receiving stock, linked to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems.
- Auditing housing stock
- Issuing parking tickets
- Mobile caretakers
- Waste management systems
- Programming by the customer using programming languages such as C++, C# or Visual Basic. AM Labels can provide advice and support should you wish to develop your own application in this way.
What choice of wireless applications are there?
The choice of wireless solution will depend on your particular application. Some of the most popular systems for wireless communication are;
- Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN). The most common type of link in this category is Bluetooth and this is typically used for short range communication (up to 15M) between a PC or handheld computer and devices such as headsets, mobile printers and cordless scanners.
- Proprietary wireless networks. An example is Datalogic narrow band, Star system, which allows up to 32 scanners to communicate with a single base station and up to 2000 scanners in the same area.
- Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN). The industry standard for this type of wireless network is 802.11 b/g (also known as Wi-Fi). Wireless LANs are typically used to link computers or other devices within buildings with a wireless range of up to 50M from the nearest access point (some coverage outside of buildings is also possible). Most laptops, PDAs and handheld terminals come with this type of wireless network as standard. As this type of wireless network is low cost and easy to install, it is increasingly found in shops, offices, factories, warehouses and homes.
- Wide Area Networks (WANs) are computer networks that allow data communication over large distances, e.g. between regions and countries. This type of wireless network would be the system of choice for mobile workers such as field sales and delivery people. Many modern devices cater for WAN technology; PDA cell phones come with a WAN capability as standard, and Rugged PDAs and handheld terminals have the option for a WAN capability and simply require a SIM card (Subscriber Identity Module) to be fitted to allow access to the internet and wireless data communication. The international standard for WAN communication is GSM, (Groupe Spécial Mobile, also known as the Global System for Mobile communication). There is now a newer version, GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) designed specifically for internet use and data communication.
What wireless application software is available?
The main advantage of wireless systems is that information can be updated in real time (i.e. information on both the handheld and the main computer system can be completely up to date.) The options for wireless applications are very similar to those described in ’Section 8; Handheld Computing Application Software’, with the exception of Terminal Emulation.
Terminal Emulation – with this type of system, you do not need specialist application software on your handheld terminal or PDA, you simply run the application program resident on the host computer using terminal emulation software. Traditionally, terminal emulation has been used in warehouses to replace a “dumb” VDU display and keyboard with a wireless handheld terminal, providing the user with greater freedom of movement. Some of the more common types of emulation are 5250, 3270, VT and HP.