With the imminent arrival of the new Motorola ES400, RIM is already adding EDA-like capabilities to its Blackberry phones. When the BlackBerry 6 mobile operating system was released with the BlackBerry Torch 9800, it already supported an API for barcode scanning, one of the main features of a typical EDA.
An API or Application Programming Interface is an interface that allows programs to interact with other software like other programs, libraries or an operating system. Basically, APIs add functionality to a device once developers write applications that implement them (the API).
So, for example, a developer who wants to write a program that makes use of the SMS sending and receiving capabilities of a phone would need a specific API for it. If he wants to make use of Bluetooth, graphics, touch screen, and GPS capabilities (to mention a few), he would need APIs for each one.
In the same manner, if developers would want to add barcode scanning to the BlackBerry, then they would need the API for that. The hardware is not a problem because phones that already feature bar code scanning typically use the phone’s built-in camera. For that matter, the BlackBerry Torch 9800 already has a 5 megapixel camera.
To get started using the API, developers would need to download the SDK (Software Developement Kit). BlackBerry smartphones make use of the Java programming language. Interestingly, one of the hottest mobile device operating systems, Android, also makes use of Java.
For the device to scan 1-D and 2-D barcodes, developers will have to use the BarcodeScanner class and the BarcodeDecoderListener class, which are both part of the net.rim.device.api.barcodelib package.
The ability to scan bar codes is one mobile phone feature that’s steadily growing in demand, This demand is expected to mushroom once mobile retailing goes mainstream. Advanced mobile retail systems will allow consumers to make use of their smart phones for selecting products, getting relevant information, and ultimately buying them.
Presently, barcode scanning features belong to an elite class of mobile devices known as EDAs (Enterprise Digital Assistants). These devices are targeted to companies that have employees working on warehousing, field sales, and health care.
But with APIs like this being introduced to mainstream smartphones, it won’t be long until the distinction between smartphones and EDAs would dissolve – just like those between smartphones and the PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) of old.
The BlackBerry 6.0 Java API also includes support for the following features: GUI (graphical user interface), application integration, personal information management, messaging, network connection, data storage, multimedia, location-based services, and security. All these features can be made to work together to elevate the consumer’s buying experience.
Imagine entering a city or town. Using GPS satellites, which is under location-based services, an advertising service that has a corresponding app on your phone can be prompted of your arrival. Advertisements and promotional information of local businesses can then be beamed to your phone over the cellular network.
If something catches your fancy, you can head to that specific business establishment, guided by a map using your phone’s geolocation feature (again under location-based services). Once inside, you can scan the products’ barcode using your phone’s camera and obtain additional information. This can be displayed either on the phone’s browser or via a special app.
Once you’re ready, you can then pay on a self-service POS, again using your phone.
The device is ready, the API is available, and the market for barcode scanning phones is growing. If I were a developer, this is one opportunity I would certainly want to check out.
(Guest Post) About the Author: Neil is a tech writer and head of marketing for eMobileScan, one of the leading UK’s Symbol Barcode Scanner Specialist. We work closely with companies to help them increase productivity and lower the running costs.