Using an Ipad or Tablet for check-in

Friday, January 20, 2012 5:01:00 PM Categories: Ministry & Technology Tips 4 Clients
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October, 2014 Update

This post has been viewed quite a bit since originally created, but a lot happens in 2 years in technology.  I decided to simply update the post.  This way, you can also have an idea about how technology applications and our thinking changes.

In the summer of 2013 we looked more in-depth into the question of using tablets for check-in because of discussions with several churches.  Through those, we (mostly meaning Mark) came up with a solution that meets our criteria for simplicity and dependability.  We started working on it immediately and released our tablet based check-in option in February, 2014.  Here's how it works.

You can use any tablet or really any device that has Internet access, but we recommend at least 7" tablets.  These can have any type of operating system or browser because they are communicating through the Internet to a computer that is attached to a label printer.  This "printing station" as we call it is capable of printing labels for at least 3-5 tablets greatly expanding the utility of your label printers.  It is possible to connect a wireless printer to this printing station computer as well.  The computer must use Internet Explorer or Firefox currently because these browsers have the required printer drivers that other browsers do not.

This solution has been used for more than 6 months now and is working quite well for churches.  Some churches have created a fixed bank of tablets all printing to a single station or maybe two.  Others have greeters at the door or even in the parking lot welcoming families and checking them on the spot.  By the time they get to the printing station, their name tags are waiting for them.  It really helps alleviate lines.  You can spend as much or as little on equipment as you want.  Even computers or tablets a few years old work just fine as long as they are Internet capable.  I know a church that their volunteers who do check-in use their personal tablets and then take their tablets with them to the service as their Bible.

Just save the login screen to the home screen of your tablet.  See the rectangle with arrow pointing up on a mac device or the menu for an Android, in both cases there is an option to save to the home screen.  Then, when you are ready to start check-in, click on the icon which looks exactly like an app icon, and enter the check-in password.

It's really easy to do and very affordable.  To learn more, join me for a check-in webinar.  If you have a tablet, bring it to the webinar for a hands on demonstration of how it works.

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Original Post - January, 2012

I have had many conversations the last 6 months or so about the idea of using Ipads or tablets for check-in.  We love the idea as well and spent some time researching the feasibility of it.  Here are some notes that are up to date as of a week or so ago that those of you thinking the same thing might be interested in.  In other words, here's the research you are looking for on this question.  Clearly this blog is dated, so stay tuned as we see how technology continues to progress.  

This is a note from Mark, our Software Architect and co-founder:

 

Here are the current limitations of using the ipad natively (i.e. using the Safari browser right on the iPad).
 
1.  No label printing as there isn't direct support from the Safari browser for the required type of printing we need for labels.
2.  A couple of the dialogs pretty much fill up the entire screen and/or are a little crowded but they still function pretty well with minimal scrolling.
3.  This isn't really a limitation but more a note that to scroll on an iPad you use 2 fingers (side by side) and push or pull the scrolling.  This mostly applies to the startup page where you scroll through to select groups you are checking in for.
 
So if you can live with the current limitations it works pretty well.
 
The other possibility which is much more involved on the setup side of things would be to use a Remote Desktop (RDP) app on the iPad to connect and control a PC with the label printer connected to it.  So really in that scenario everything is running on the PC but you are controlling it from the iPad.  Below are some notes I put together with some previous testing I did with that scenario and my impression of how it worked.

I did some testing using the Mocha RDP Lite app on the iPad and if I set the session to 1024x768, launched IE and set it to full screen mode after getting into the checkin system it was pretty decent really (I would say 3.5 out of 5 stars).  Really it was very similar to Safari except when you clicked into a text box field in the RDP session it didn't automatically bring up the keyboard like it does in Safari so there is a floating button at the bottom for bringing up the keyboard.  Also there was no Next/Previous button the keyboard (really the Tab key) but in reading about the full/paid version of Mocha RDP I think it has more keyboard options there.  There are also quite a number of other RDP or VNC clients that might have different/better keyboard support so it may be that you could get a pretty close to native experience with the right RDP client.

On the RDP side you would need to have Windows XP/Vista/7 Professional to support accessing the machine via RDP (the Home versions don't support RDP) but the VNC solutions would just require installing a (typically) free VNC server app on the machine to be controlled.

Longer term I would expect Windows 8 tablets to be the nicest solution as they should directly support printer sharing of label printers hooked to a central PC.