On September 8, 2011, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals more details on their portable point-of-sales (POS) system. Apple first filed a patent application for their POS system back in Q1 2010 which was later granted to them in July 2011. The news of such a system actually being piloted at a few of Gap Inc's Old Navy stores first leaked to 9to5 Mac in December 2010. In today's latest patent application Apple reveals that their POS scanning device is capable of scanning multiple barcodes in different sizes with different symbologies in a single swipe and then instantly transferring the data to an electronic sales form for processing. Although Apple is recognized as a global leading consumer centric company, it appears that Apple's push into a Point-of-Sale system could very well be the first of many specialized systems for both retail and enterprise markets in the years to come. Are you listening Wall Street?
Overview of the Current Problem with Current Point-of-Sale Systems
Visually encoded data tags, e.g., barcodes, are capable of compactly representing data, and may be decoded quickly through the use of a scanning device. Such barcodes have become commonplace for tracking products in warehouses, retail stores, online shipping, and many other applications. For example, each product for sale in a large retail store most likely contains a UPC-type barcode printed on the product or product package. When a customer selects an item for purchase, a retail sales associate may scan the barcode on the product which allows an associated cash register to process the barcode information and output a price for the customer to pay. Additionally, the process of scanning the barcode saves the sales associate the time of manually inputting a product identification value into the cash register for each product being purchased, thus promoting efficiency and reducing human error.
Many products contain one barcode, which is usually located on the product or product package for use by the retail store as described above. However, newer products emerging over the last several years are beginning to require two or more barcodes. For example, in addition to the traditional product-identification codes that are usually encoded into UPC-type barcodes used for sales purposes, other codes such as International Mobile Equipment Identity ("IMEI") codes and Integrated Circuit Card ID ("ICCID") codes are also used to sell mobile phones and they too are encoded into barcodes. The IMEI code can be a unique 17 or 15-digit code used to identify an individual mobile device to a GSM or UMTS network, and the ICCID code can be the 19 or 20 digit serial number of the SIM card contained within the device. When these products are sold in the retail setting, a sales associate must scan each of the barcodes individually, one at a time as prompted, for the sales transaction to be complete.
However, when scanning two or more barcodes for each product being purchased during a sales transaction, the result could translate into an increased time to complete the transaction, thus decreasing the number of sales that may be completed in a given timeframe by a single sales associate and further decreasing overall efficiency.
Further, each sales associate is required to be familiar with the barcode-types that are used in the sales environment so that they could scan the correct barcode when prompted by the cash register. This inevitably leads to human error, which must be accounted for by an error correction scheme in the cash register, and thus more time is wasted. Further, for marketing reasons as well as for conservation of shelf-space, many products are packaged in small boxes requiring even smaller barcodes placed closely together, and making it even more difficult for a sales associate to scan the barcodes.
Overview of Apple's Point-of-Sale Systems Solution
Apple's invention covers methods and systems for scanning two or more images visually encoded to have different types of codes encoded therein, in a single scanning operation, and processing the codes. In some embodiments, the present technology is particularly useful in the retail environment, wherein some products now have multiple barcodes which must be scanned to complete the transaction.
In some embodiments, a handheld communication device could receive data decoded from two or more barcodes, each barcode representing data of a different code type. The two or more barcodes could be scanned during a single scanning operation as illustrated above in patent FIG. 3. The device could be a specialized iPod touch or iPhone having a built-in magnetic card reader and barcode scanner as indicated in patent FIG. 1 above.
After the scanning operation, the handheld communication device could identify the code type associated with the barcodes from the received data. For example, in the purchase of a mobile telephone (one type of handheld communication device), a product package often includes a UPC code, IMEI code, ICC ID code and a serial number, each encoded into a barcode. The barcode scanner could scan and decode each of these barcodes and the handheld communication device could identify each code. In some embodiments, this identification is done by a pattern matching technique. In some embodiments, this identification could match each code to a recognized code according to the number of alphanumerical characters expected in the recognized code.
Scanned Data is transferred to an Electronic Retail Sales Business Form
According to Apple's invention, the identified code could be used to populate a form having fields reserved for the identified code types. Any codes that are not recognized, or that do not have a field reserved for them could be discarded.
Apple's invention includes a scanning device system and processor for scanning multiple barcodes during the same scanning operation and for processing the barcodes to populate an electronic retail form residing on the device as shown above in patent FIG. 4. In some embodiments, the form could be hosted on a handheld communication device. In some embodiments, the form could be hosted on a server.
In some embodiments, an audible confirmation tone could be generated as each of the plurality of barcodes is scanned. The audible confirmation could alert the user to the number of barcodes successfully scanned so that the user could be alerted to whether the scan was successful. In some embodiments, a user could know if the scanning operation was not successful because a portion of the sales form could be displayed if the fields in the form are not populated by the scanned barcode data. If any of the fields remain unpopulated, the sales form could be displayed so that the user can learn of the missing information. Alternatively, if all the fields are successfully filled, the sales transaction could move to the next step without displaying that portion of the sales form to the user.
Apple's patent FIG. 3 illustrates an exemplary header 300 for use in electronically communicating between the handheld computing device and the scanning device. Header 300 illustrates the organization of the electronic messages to be exchanged between the handheld computing device and the scanning device. The Version field 302 denotes the version number of the software. It is used to confirm that the handheld computing device and the scanning device are communicating using a protocol version that it is configured to accept.
Apple's two patent applications covering this invention were originally filed in Q1 2010 by inventor Khawaja Shams. Another Apple engineer by the name of Michael Maysmith is also credited on one of these patents.
If you've never seen a mobile point-of-sale system in a retail store before, then you could check out this video presentation from Global Bay which will give you a brief overview.
Notice: Patently Apple presents a detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for full and accurate details. Revelations found in patent applications shouldn't be interpreted as rumor or fast-tracked according to rumor timetables. Apple's patent applications have provided the Mac community with a clear heads-up on some of Apple's greatest product trends including the iPod, iPhone, iPad, iOS cameras, LED displays, iCloud services for iTunes and more. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
An Entertaining Side Note
Just as an entertaining side note we wanted to point to and applaud a major Brazilian online magazine for their creative coverage of a series of our recent patent reports. As you could clearly see below, the magazine's artist interprets the patent and patent graphics in his own way.
The patents covered in our graphic above include the following: (1) Apple Wants to Beat HP's WebOS Sharing Feature with Something Cooler, (2) Apple Reveals Big Plans to Integrate Projectors into iOS Devices + and (3) Apple Invents Privacy Glasses for Reading Confidential Information or Playing Multi-Player Games.
To see the other three interpreted patent graphics, see Leonardo Luis and De Sao Paulo's report at Fohla.com. Well done guys, well done. Cheers!
Here are a Few Great Community Sites covering our Original Report
MacSurfer, Contactless Payment News, Houston's Chronicle's TechBlog, Twitter, Facebook, StockTwits, Apple Investor News, Google Reader, UpgradeOSX, TechWatching, Macnews, iPhone World Canada, CBS MarketWatch, MacDailyNews, iDownloadBlog, iPhoneItalia, Techmeme, iPhoneclub Netherlands, Kiui Social Italy, Engadget Germany, and more.