Motorola blends bar code scanning, VoIP on retail handheld

Motorola this week introduced for retailers a wireless bar code scanner that for the first time includes support for VoIP.

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Motorola this week introduced for retailers a wireless bar code scanner that for the first time includes support for VoIP.

The new CA50 is intended to give retail employees both data and voice access, partly for traditional applications like inventory management, but also for improving customer service. With the wireless device, employees can run a stock or price check, or make a VoIP or a walkie-talkie call to find more information or contact a co-worker or supervisor.

The CA50 looks like a simplified, somewhat bulky mobile phone; it measures 4.4 x 1.8 x 1 inches and weighs 3.7 ounces. The case is packed with an Intel XScale 312Mhz CPU running Microsoft Windows CE 5.0, 64Mb of RAM, and 32Mb of flash memory. Also integrated is an 802.11a/b/g radio. There is a web browser, and a VoIP client that supports Session Initiation Protocol, H.323 and in a future release Cisco's Skinny Call Control Protocol.

But even if a retailer doesn't have a VoIP deployment, users can still talk peer-to-peer or broadcast announcements via the push-button walkie-talkie feature. As many as 32 talk groups or channels can be created for separate groups of employees, with all managers on one channel, stocking personnel on another and so on.

The screen offers a five-line display; one is for battery status, one is for labeling the device's soft keys, and three are for data display.

The barcode scanner is Motorola's latest 1-D scanning engine, for reading the typical vertical bars on a tag or box or label.

A server application lets an administrator create and change user profiles, configure phones and manage the devices and users.

Motorola is relying on its network of value added resellers and systems integrators for software development to tie the CA50 into a given retailer's back-end server and web applications, says Charles LaForge, director of product management for Motorola's Enterprise Mobility Business.

LaForge cited a recent retail user survey, and the company's own research, as identifying a high level of customer dissatisfaction with the service they get in retail stores. In a study taken of 1,300 retail shoppers during the 2007 Christmas holiday season, 40% said they had walked out of a store without buying anything because it was too hard to find a store employee or because the lines at the cash registers were too long. And of those walk-outs, almost nine out of 10 never came back.

With an average consumer electronics sale of $214 (£107) and an overall average of $115 (£57), these "non-sales" quickly add up, LaForge says. The CA50 won't make it easier to find a store worker, but once found, it's more likely the employee will be able to quickly help customers find what they want, he says. With other data that shows more than 70% of shoppers make their buying decisions based not on ads or promotions but on the actual in-store shopping experience, improved customer service can pay off in a big way.

The CA50 will ship in March. List price is $540 (£270), including the VoIP software license and a per-site server licence fee of $1,500 (£750).

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