Bar Code Scanning in FileMaker Go


One of the new features of FileMaker Go 13 was the addition of the ability to scan bar codes directly into the database. It is a nice new feature but probably won’t replace a dedicated scanner in many situations — here is why.

Bar Code Test database

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Setup is simple. Create a layout with a field and a ‘Scan Barcode’ button.

Insert from Device script step

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Note that the script step is selectable but greyed out in the Macintosh and Windows compatibility views. You can still use the step and set it up, but FileMaker is warning you that it won’t work on desktop platforms.

Show Compatibility iOS

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Switching to ‘iOS’ in the Show Compatibility popup will display the step in not-grey.

In the lower right area, Specify the field to insert the bar code scan into and set the Insert From to ‘Bar Code’ from the popup menu.

More options

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1) Select the front or back camera.

2) Full toggle offers Small, Medium, Large and Full, which seems to be related to the size of QR Bar Codes.

3) If you select the Field, it looks like you can even scan images that have been imported from the Camera Roll. (CNS Bar Code Plugin also offers this feature). This could be useful for offline processing, but it could also be problematic if the photos do not have a clear and focused image of the bar code. More testing is required.

4) Toggle the bar code types you want to scan from.

Test Database running on an iPad

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With the FileMaker Go implementation, the user needs to push the ‘Scan Barcode’ button to have a bar code scanned, in contrast to a dedicated bar code scanner — all the user needs to do is waive the bar code under the scanner’s beam and it will scan automatically.

Getting the bar code to scan requires more work

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Although the camera does give the user some feedback as to where to place the bar code, in practice it took some care and time to line up and get the bar code scanner to focus. A dedicated scanner that displays a red laser line can be much quicker to scan bar codes with.

Other approaches on iOS

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Unlike the free (read: ad supported) Pic2Shop or the $9.99 CNS Bar Code Plug-in, FileMaker Go 13’s bar code scanner lacks a good feedback mechanism to help users line up their scans. In the screenshot above taken from Pic2Shop, you can see the red/green line indicating where to line up the bar code in the camera. These two plug-ins take more programming effort, but may be better solutions in some situations. CNS Bar Code also lets you process bar codes from photos in the Camera Roll.

Real World scanning

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While it is useful that FileMaker has brought bar code scanning capabilities into FileMaker Go 13, I would not rush out and replace an actual bar code scanner with FileMaker Go on iOS. All that a dedicated bar code scanner requires the user to do is walk up and wave a bar code under its beam. My experience with units like the Metrologic Voyager is that they are very robust at scanning codes at various distances and even with a card in motion. People who have never used a bar code scanner before can usually figure them out quickly, based on the feedback of the red laser. Using FileMaker Go requires the user to push a button, then hold the scan card steady and at just the right distance to get the focus happening. No doubt the FileMaker Go bar code scanning feature will be useful to some, but a dedicated scanner will win on speed and convenience any day.

2014-01-18 Update: Skeleton Key has a good article on why you might select one bar code font over another.

Related Post

Building a Bar Code System in FileMaker Pro

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14 Responses to “Bar Code Scanning in FileMaker Go”

  1. You don’t seem to be so impressed with this new feature. I do disagree. This feature is one of the best new features in FMGO. Actually, the implementation is extremely good and the scanning is very fast compared to many other native apps. For barcode scanning via the camera, the rule is always, the better the camera, the better and faster scan. Try and test with an iPhone 4s or newer. It is actually faster than any other barcode apps I have tested (and I have tested almost all of them…) You write that you would not “rush” to replace external barcode scanners. Well, that really depends on your solution. Do you scan a lot of barcodes and speed is needed, then you might want to look at an external scanner. But if you only scan barcodes once in a while, this new feature is going to be key.
    The really intelligent thing here is the implementation, where you can scan directly to a field. With some smart coding, this can really speed processes up.

    • Hi Claus,

      Interesting…your comments about the quality of the camera making a difference appear to be true. I ran my original tests on an iPad 2 (or the ‘New iPad’ as they called it when it came out) and the 5 megapixel camera was quite fussy and slow finding a bar code. I just ran a test of the bar code scanning capability on an iPhone 5S, which uses a more advanced 8 megapixel camera, and the results are much more impressive—fast and accurate scans.

      I don’t think we disagree, there will be a place for dedicated scanners AND this is a very nice new feature added to FileMaker Go which puts a bar code scanner in the hands of many more people.

      • Try to test other barcode scanning apps on an iPad2 and compare. They will also be slow, some slower and maybe one or two is faster.
        iPad2 has a “not impressive quality” camera. I belive that newer generations of iPad has a better camera. And that will make a difference.
        It is all about the resolutions. And this apply to external scanners as well. The higher resolution, the faster it can read and decode. I belive you compared the scanner with an external 1D scanner. This comparization is not really fair, as the built-in is a 2D scanner. And actually a scanner that essientially first get a color image, that is then converted to bitmap color (2 color; black or white) and then decoded. An external 1D (or 2D) scanner record the barcode in black or white so they don’t have this extra step.

      • Hi.

        I’d also like to point out that with script triggers on fields, you don’t need the scan button on the layout. Set up the field with a script trigger to run the Insert from Device script when the field is the focus. When entering the field, your camera will pop right up and ready to scan.

      • Agreed, I am aware of script triggers, but this is still one more step than waiving your card in front of a dedicated bar code reader. Someone still has to initiate something on the iOS device screen.

        There is also the issue of usability. The situation I am interested in involves customers (not employees who can be trained more effectively) walking up and scanning their own bar codes. Enough people have seen cashiers scanning bar codes under a bar code scanner. If they see a bar code scanner on the desk, they seem to ‘get’ the idea of waiving their cards under the red laser. Getting them to waive their cards ‘behind’ an iPad or iPod and lining it up in the camera, may be more confusing and create a bottleneck at the scanner.

      • In that usage scenario, I agree fully. I see this feature being most useful to trained staff rather than a walkup situation.

  2. Hi Douglas,

    We believe that hardware scanning still beats scanning with the camera. It’s just faster and more reliable: gets the job done right every time plus you can program the scanner to perform additional tasks, such as hit enter or tab, as an example.

    We sell tiny Bluetooth barcode scanners and RFID readers. Check out our growing selection at http://store.zerobluetech.com.

    ZeroBlue is the number one resource when it comes to barcoding in FileMaker.

    We can source you printers, and materials, too, such as labels, cards, etc.

    Feel free to chat us and ask questions.

  3. I created a solution with an external barcode scanner and a plugin in filemaker 12, and I will stick to that. I have an iPhone 5 and in my experience barcode scanning with a camera is just crap. There are plenty of good plug-ins that also show you the barcode in filemaker (mine automatically generates new ones using a text field) So I agree with this article

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