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Microsoft Tag, Smartphone-Scannable Barcodes 258

Posted by kdawson
from the cue-cat-lives dept.
dhavleak writes "Microsoft Research has come up with Microsoft Tag: '...just aim your camera phone at a Tag and instantly access mobile content, videos, music, contact information, maps, social networks, promotions, and more. Nothing to type, no browsers to launch!' Device support is fairly extensive (iPhone, WinMo, BlackBerry and more), and tag scanning appears to work quickly and reliably from different distances and angles. Long Zheng has an overview on his site. The Tag is similar to a barcode, but has obvious visual differences — colored vs. black and white, and triangles vs. squares or lines. The technology looks interesting, but will it get the adoption necessary to be successful? What applications do you see for such technology?"
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Microsoft Tag, Smartphone-Scannable Barcodes

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  • QR code? (Score:5, Informative)

    by MoFoQ (584566) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @05:37AM (#26430421)

    sounds like QR Code [wikipedia.org] which is widely used in Japan (it's what the CueCat [wikipedia.org] couldn't do in the states).

    Microsoft...always trying to re-invent the wheel and try to pass it on as a new invention.

  • Finns did it already (Score:3, Informative)

    by galaxy (212802) <samuli@sorvakko. n e t> on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @05:41AM (#26430457)

    As so many digital-age inventions, this has been done in Finland ages ago. :) There's even a company whose business is built around it: http://www.upc.fi/en/upcode/ [www.upc.fi]

  • by biscuitlover (1306893) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @05:44AM (#26430485)

    QR codes [wikipedia.org] have been doing exactly the same thing for a while now.

    And to be honest, I really can't see either catching on... The general public are constantly getting more familiar with the web, and getting more comfortable with finding their own favourite 'trusted' sources of information. Even if Microsoft does somehow convince enough manufacturers to start adding codes to their packaging, are people really going to jump at the chance to instantly look up a load of information on that particular television/cosmetic/breakfast cereal on some arbitrary MS website? Because that's all this really amounts to... a link. More info here [techcrunch.com].

  • by ta bu shi da yu (687699) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @05:54AM (#26430531) Homepage

    Nokia had it for ages? Heck the CueCat [cuecat.com] had it some time ago. Seriously, big deal.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @06:18AM (#26430705)

    Many magazines and newspapers in Japan are festooned with such codes on adverts, or articles, etc. So it can certainly catch on. Japanese phones are pretty good at it, even for very small ones, but for other manufacturers the problem tends to be poor implementation in the phone side making it quicker to type in the damn URL, or requiring a too large an area devoted to the code.

  • by dhavleak (912889) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @06:30AM (#26430771)

    Similar but not the same - the combination of color/shapes seems to make the pattern recognition for this very reliable and quick. If you have a smartphone give it a shot and you'll see what I mean. The code in your link is a QR code -- scanning one of those is usually hit-or-miss (and usually more miss than hit).

    Another key difference - a QR code stores the data in the code itself, limiting what you can do with it. These Tags are just a GUID or something like it. The scanning app on your phone will send that number to a service (MS hosted -- that's the monetization I guess). The service responds with the data - which could be a message, URL, vCard, or phone number.

    I can see a bunch of useful applications for stuff like this:
    - Flight Arrival/Departure Info: tags can be posted at easily visible locations around the airport with a sign "scan here for arrival/departure info".
    - Business Cards: You could print a tag (with your vCard associated with it) on your business card. Now for a business contact to get your contact info, all they have to do is scan the tag. No fiddling with data entry on a tiny-ass qwerty to enter a name, phone number, etc.

  • Re:QR code? (Score:3, Informative)

    by tg123 (1409503) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @07:03AM (#26430981)
    QR codes are widely used in Japan they are literally on everything -

    Why I think they are so popular is that japanese (kanji/hiragana/katakana ) is hard to type on a mobile phone.

    With QR codes you just take a picture and your phone goes to the website.

    Microsoft Tags don't sound that different except you have to use Microsoft to access the info.

  • Re:Big difference (Score:5, Informative)

    by dhavleak (912889) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @07:06AM (#26430999)

    Well, there's obviously tradeoffs associated:

    A QR code stores the data in the tag itself so (AFAIK) it can have variable size. It's black and white and the shapes are smaller. So the pattern recognition can be harder, might not work well with low resolution cameras, and there are practical limits on how much information you can encode into the tag.

    Microsoft tag's strength is pattern recognition. It looks to me like the tag has been designed with low-res cameras, variable distances and light conditions in mind. Scanning has been working for me from all kinds of distances and screen angles, and it's been super-quick.

    To achieve this it looks like MS had to make the tag data a fixed length and use the data essentially as an index number. Sure, you gotta go through their service, but well, they're providing a service (duh).. They've announced that the tag scanning app, and the act of scanning a tag will always be free services. Creating a tag is free right now while the service is in beta, but I'm sure they'll start charging a fee at some point. If/when that happens, an entity interested in creating a tag simply needs to weigh the cost/benefit and decide if it's worth it.

    About MS having your data -- well, for example if you're in an airport and you see a tag that says "scan here for arrival/departure info" -- you scan it, it takes you to a page with flight info. How's that different from say, doing a search query and reaching the same website? Ultimately, the person/entity creating the tag will link the data (URL, vCard, whatever) to it. If they're not comfortable with this data residing on an MS server, why would they create the tag in the first place? You, as the consumer, the person scanning the tag, aren't uploading your data on MS's server.

  • by crazycheetah (1416001) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @07:38AM (#26431209)

    Oh god, thank you. I was thinking either someone has to point out how this has been done at least a couple times or my head was going to explode. Especially with this being slashdot.

    I wasn't thinking Nokia, exactly, though. I was actually thinking about my Palm Treo 700w (yeah, with Windows Mobile), where the majority of the applications I used were downloaded with a similar method. The only thing I don't recall ever using is the colored barcodes, but I can't say that gets me the least bit excited about this one.

    Well, and the part about it really just holding a unique ID to get information from Microsoft's servers. But that annoys me more than excites me. I'm sure Microsoft has a great setup with their servers, but I'm always cautious over one company's servers holding it all. The idea where, even if one server holding something I wanted went down, there was at the very least a possibility of finding something similar elsewhere. Plus, it rather gives Microsoft control over what they even put on it, which I'm not a big fan of. It can work, but I like to have every bit of control I can have over the things I own. Which is why I don't, and probably won't, have an (unhacked) iPhone. Yeah, I lose in some respects by that, but for things like my phone, I'll take my complete freedom over features any day. Yeah, the free software movement spoils me a bit...

  • by mobby_6kl (668092) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @07:56AM (#26431333)

    Well I gave it a try on my HTC S730 [htc.com] because I have nothing else to do at work. The camera is a pretty shitty 2 megapixel with no autofocus, but it seems to work quite well. The tags are 15mm across once printed and are reliably detected from about 15cm away in rather average lighting (diffuse sunlight, the paper is in the shadow behind some equipment). Doesn't have to be straight down either, something like 45 degrees usually works fine too. Oh, scanning them from the monitor works too, but I thought that won't be a very realistic usage scenario.

    Despite the usual "HURRR M$" sentiment, I think this could be pretty useful, and the implementation is already rather decent. Some people mentioned that color is a drawback, but I don't think so. Most advertising and packaging material I come across nowadays is in color, the only exceptions are perhaps the crappy flyers people try to stick in my face in public places, and I don't care about what's on them anyway.

  • by psychofox (92356) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @08:20AM (#26431539)

    Yup, seems like a garbage idea to me.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_Code [wikipedia.org]

    Can hold a a couple of kilobytes and have been around for over a decade and are in use everywhere in Japan.

    You can go to a website and create one which contains anything you like, i.e your business card details, in a standard format, a url, telephone number, etc.

  • by dmizer (1081799) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @08:49AM (#26431911)
    QR Codes are used extensively here in Japan, and have been for many years. I also have no trouble at all reading them. Takes less than a second, and I don't need internet access to read them. I've also been amazed at the kind of data: coupons, ads, Business card, small maps, flight information, restaurant food nutritional information, and that's just scratching the surface of what they're used for here.

    Frankly, the thing I see killing this one that it relies on a central server. Man-in-the-middle anyone?

The bogosity meter just pegged.

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