Trend Watch: New Uses for Handheld Mobile Computers

Business processes and person-to-person interactions are changing. The right devices can keep operations running while maintaining safe social distances.


Since the COVID-19 coronavirus began to spread throughout the U.S., much of IT’s focus has been on transitioning employees to remote work, automating operations, and finding ways to keep essential employees safe. In May 2020, however, as states began lifting shutdown orders, IT found itself facing a new challenge: how to make work and customer engagements as “contactless” as possible. Handheld mobile computers can be the answer.

Social Distancing Via Handheld Mobile Computer

Whether deployed for retail, transportation and logistics, field services, manufacturing or healthcare, handheld mobile computers have helped operations improve efficiency, productivity, and accuracy. Although they continue to deliver in those areas, they can also help people meet the new challenge of accomplishing essential tasks at a distance, such as through:

Buy online, pickup in store: “Click and collect” is nothing new — in 2019, about 70 percent of U.S. consumers had made purchases this way. As of March 2020, however, retailers reported that click-and-collect purchases rose 87 percent year over year, and one area of particular growth was online grocery orders and curbside pickup. More businesses and warehouses may be deploying handheld mobile computers to fulfill orders quickly and accurately so fewer people need to enter stores and to manage this part of their operation more efficiently than with paper-based methods.

Self-service package lockers: To take social distancing a step further, shoppers that place online orders can retrieve them from self-service lockers rather than interacting with a sales associate at a store or a delivery person. Handheld mobile computers can enable an employee loading lockers to quickly and accurately record where each customer’s package is located and send notifications that their packages are ready for pickup. Using a handheld also eliminates the need for employees to use shared computer touchscreens or keyboards (which may harbor viruses) to track packages and communicate with customers.

Temperature screenings: Some state or local governments may require businesses to screen employees before they enter the workplace each day. A handheld mobile computer with an extended scanning distance can allow an employee responsible for screenings to confirm each employee’s identity by scanning their ID badges as they pass through a temperature screening or complete a health questionnaire.

Safe communication: With social distancing still the best way to avoid contracting coronavirus, handheld mobile computers with push-to-talk features can enable team members to speak without getting too close. Handhelds can also help employees track assets and access applications and data without having to interact directly with a supervisor or team member for help.

What it Takes to Make Handheld Mobile Computers Work for Your Use Case

Of course, a handheld mobile computer needs to have the right features to deliver the greatest value. You need to consider specs such as screen size and battery life, but also take these areas into consideration for handheld purchases in 2020:

Computing power and memory: The handheld needs to be able to provide smooth, reliable user experiences to minimize employees seeking help from IT staff or supervisors.

Data collection: Depending on the use case, it may be beneficial to choose a handheld that can scan both 1D and 2D barcodes and that has an extended scanning range.

Label printing: Although customers may begin to refuse to take a receipt from a sales associate’s hand, printing is still an important function, especially if workers need to ticket and label online orders.

Rugged design: Handheld mobile computers designed for enterprise use are tested to prove they can withstand exposure to dust or liquids, drops, vibrations, and temperature extremes. Only those for healthcare, however, were typically made from infection-control materials and could withstand cleaning with harsh chemicals. Look at all options for the best fit for your use case.

Ergonomics: If employees will be carrying handhelds throughout their entire shifts, consider devices that are light and small or that can be worn on a belt, wrist or lanyard.

Creative New Uses

The coronavirus pandemic has made us look at everyday interactions in a new way. Businesses are reinventing operations for greater safety and worker and customer confidence. Although handheld mobile computers have become common solutions for a range of applications across verticals, they have the potential to solve new problems.

What will you use to meet 2020’s challenges?

Mike Monocello

The former owner of a software development company and having more than a decade of experience writing for B2B IT solution providers, Mike is co-founder of DevPro Journal.

Mike Monocello

The former owner of a software development company and having more than a decade of experience writing for B2B IT solution providers, Mike is co-founder of DevPro Journal.