From handheld units used to check stock in a warehouse to point of sale systems, fast and accurate data capture and entry is vital for many industries.
And, despite the arrival of voice-activated and touchscreen technology there appears to be no substitute for the qwerty keyboard for quick and positive data entry.
Touchscreens have quantifiable benefits for training time and ease of use, but do not suit all applications, especially in demanding manufacturing environments.
Although you can use touchscreens to display various pictures of goods, they can foster repetititive strain injury more than a keyboard would.
New user-programmable devices combine easy data capture by keystroke with the flexibility of touchscreens. Some new customised devices of this type add ruggedisation.
This offers opportunities for resellers to achieve competitive differentiation. Yet the channel’s traditional focus on software-led differentiation has resulted in far too many organisations that have not yet explored and tried to understand these latest alternatives to the mouse or keyboard.
The right, customised hardware solution can enable resellers to differentiate software offerings and enable better use of a software application’s specific features.
Specialist data input tools such as small keypads, programmable keyboards, ‘jog shuttles’ and joysticks can be customised for particular applications.
The opportunities presented by peripheral hardware are extensive.
Prospective customers may be waking up to the potential earlier than the channel.
For example, interest is rising in key and display combinations, such as the provision of a four or five line display to turn the keyboard into a self-contained SMS messaging device.
As some industries, such as live to air broadcast, move away from bespoke hardware to PC-based technology, demand for customisable input devices also grows.
For example, a standard qwerty keyboard with low-light keys user displays and more than 100 user programmable keys may be needed to meet the specific demands of some specialist sectors.
From the addition of a pre-programmed button to the use of spill-resistant material or ruggedised systems that can survive tough environments, input devices can be tailored to meet user needs.
Retailers – especially supermarkets – have spent time assessing the potential of new peripheral technologies at the point of sale, where numeric keypads have proven popular. However, retailers are also interested in deploying touchscreen technology for rapid product display, recognition and processing.
Other sectors are also catching on, such as transport and logistics.
One organisation recently invested in a heavy vehicle tracking system that uses a peripheral device plugged into the vehicle computer system to interrogate vehicle operation and performance.
Each driver logs on via a keypad plugged into the GPRS-enabled box to provide operators with information on driver and load location.
Management also uses the keypad to get real-time information on both driver and load.
In an auction environment, buyers can use a simple keypad with its own IP connection, supported by the appropriate software and thin client infrastructure, to bid for different lots.
Mostly touchscreens, displays or function keys are combined to create a customised user solution.
New features are proliferating, such as the use of large buttons incorporating an LCD display. Each button is the size of four standard keys and can display various modes or availability.
Using such buttons alongside conventional keys broadens the display possibilities and eases the integration process as well.
New peripheral devices can be both intelligent and dumb to reflect the needs of the software deployed. Adding intelligence to the device can reduce the overhead on the host, support additional security, such as the use of PINs, or enable the device to recall a schedule of tasks.
Device intelligence already facilitates cash-less transactions in schools and barcode identification of pupils – which process can also be assisted by deploying PINs or fingerprint recognition.
However, keyboards still have an important role to play in most applications. New mobile devices increasingly include small keyboards to provide a familiar level of control.
It is those resellers that can deliver transformed productivity and ease of use through combining all that is available in new organisation-specific solutions that will win additional business and maintain margins.
Stuart Thorn is chief executive officer at Electrone
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