Snap it, click it, use it
A new way to deliver information to mobile phones is spreading around the world
NEGOTIATING his way across a crowded concourse at a busy railway station, a traveller removes his phone from his pocket and, using its camera, photographs a bar code printed on a poster. He then looks at the phone to read details of the train timetable displayed there. In Japan, such conveniences are commonplace, and almost all handsets come with the bar code-reading software already loaded. In America and Europe, though, they are only just being introduced.
Actually, calling them bar codes is a bit old-fashioned, because they store information in a two-dimensional (2-D) matrix of tiny squares, dots or other geometric patterns, rather than a stripe of black-and-white lines of varying thickness. When an image of the matrix is captured, software in the phone converts it into a web address, a piece of text or a number. If a number, it is sent to a remote computer which responds with an instruction that tells the phone to perform an action associated with that particular bar code.
In the case of the traveller, this might be calling up a web page on which the train timetable is displayed. Other 2-D bar codes might add an event to a calendar or display a coupon that entitles the bearer to a discount on a hamburger. Indeed, one magazine recently featured a bar code alongside archive images of famous swimsuit models. Lecherous readers who photographed it were rewarded with additional pictures.
In Japan, 2-D bar codes appear not only on posters and in magazines but also T-shirts, scarves and even as art. They can even be displayed on monitor screens, allowing people to store a web address for whatever they are looking at on a computer on their phones, for future recall.
In America and Europe, three types of bar code, called QR Code, Data Matrix and Ezcode, are likely to become common. The first two are free, open standards. Ezcode is owned by a New York-based firm called Scanbuy, but it, too, is available free, for general purposes. The firm behind it makes its money by charging advertisers and publishers when people use it. In July three mobile-phone operators in Spain—Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone—agreed to load software that recognises Ezcode. Scanbuy has also signed a deal with two Danish operators and two in South America. In the United States, a Samsung mobile phone, the Exclaim, has become the first to be sold with Scanbuy’s program already loaded. Meanwhile a Swiss software firm called Kaywa has been collaborating with Welt Kompakt, a condensed version of Die Welt, one of Germany’s leading newspapers, to run QR Codes next to articles. It has also developed software for SBB, the Swiss Federal Railway, so that passengers can scan 2-D bar codes on trains and at stations to call up timetables.
A game of tag
A new format for bar codes appeared in January, when Microsoft unveiled Tag, a system that uses colour to increase the density of information that can be stored. A Tag code occupies about one-eighth of the space of a comparable QR Code. It also allows coding elements to be incorporated into designs. One sample code shows a photograph of coloured jelly beans that includes Tag data. Others show company logos, balloons and birds. Bar codes that do not need specialised software to read them are also being developed. These encode less information than their more sophisticated counterparts but can be used by people who own simpler mobile phones, because the image-recognition process is handled elsewhere. The codes made by JAGTAG, of Princeton, New Jersey, for example, can be photographed using a camera phone and then sent to a messaging service that analyses the code and sends back appropriate information. Sports Illustrated used the JAGTAG system when it sent its readers those extra images of swimsuit models, and the system has also been used to advertise Nike, Sony and a restaurant chain called Qdoba. Bar codes, then, could be on the point of breaking out of their native environment. It has been a long and curious journey from the supermarket checkout.
Source of Information : The Economist August 22 2009