Tag Archives: Embedded systems

Pay Money, Scan Barcodes With Your Cellphone

ScanZoom, which allows camera phone users to scan barcodes to compare prices in stores and obtain other information and services, is now available. It will work with most camera phones, but there’s a catch: You have to pay $10 for the software, $10 for a special macro zoom lens, and another $5 or so to get it to you. A similar version if available for webcams.

I haven’t tried it out yet, but if I recall correctly a barcode reading pen was available a few years back — the C Pen, if I’m not mistaken, which turned out to be less of a success than its makers hoped for. The idea was for users to scan barcodes they found in magazines and then send the data to their computer, which would in turn, er, tell them about the product they’d just read about in the magazine. I might be getting this wrong, but a) I couldn’t find that many companies that had been loaded into the pen’s database for it to work and b) how many people are going to do this kind of thing for it to work?

ScanZoom could be different, in that the user doesn’t have to do that much. But clearly the need for a macro zoom lens on the camera phone is going to be an inhibitor (can you still use the phone with the lens on it?), as it the fact you’ve got to pay $20 to get started. Unless the service really does help you get good prices, rather than just throw more advertising at you and steer you to certain vendors, you might be wondering who the chump is.

Still, as infoSync World reported late last year, this kind of thing is common enough in Japan. And ScanBuy, the company behind ScanZoom, says it used the technology at a soccer game in Spain earlier this year to ID ticket holders. And they’re not shy in their claims: Their PR blurb says (PDF only)

Optical Intelligence enables camera equipped cell phones and other mobile devices with barcode-reading functionality. This technology will drastically change use of cell phones as we know it today as the biggest problem with the cell phones, namely the input mechanisms, is now solved. With the new generation of devices, ScanZoom will allow to send an email, give a call, access a website, download music or purchase items according to the data scanned.

I’ve requested a review unit and will report back.

More On Camera Phones As Bar Scanners

Here’s more on a subject I looked at in December (and then promptly forgot about): Using your camera phone as a bar code scanner. Wired says there are at least four software companies that have released applications that let you take a photo of a bar code, which will then trigger the download of coupons, reviews and other information about that product.

Not a bad idea. As the article points out, most phones have inbuilt browsers, so in theory it’s possible to check out competing prices and more information about a product you’re looking at. But who actually does that?

This is what the folk at trendwatching.com call SEE-HEAR-BUY: “the capability to buy everything you see or hear, wherever you are.”

Wired also takes a glimpse at the bit that worries me: The destruction of the small time retailer. If people are just wandering into shops, taking a snap of a product and then wandering off again, how helpful is that going to be to their business? Either they ban camera phones in their shops, or they try to find a way to make it work for them, perhaps by creating ways to make alternative recommendations for a product the customer is viewing. And of course, the edge the bricks and mortar folk have always had: Their extensive knowledge, onsite, online and delivered in human packaging.

News: The Ugly Truth About The Self-Checkout Lane

 I live in Indonesia, which teaches you tons about credit cards and how easy they are to get fraudulent with. But at least here they don’t allow you to swan past security with riding lawn-mowers you haven’t paid for. From the Sacramento Bee, a cautionary tale about the self-checkout lane in supermarkets where you swipe your credit card, wave a scanner over your goodies, and leave.
 
 
Speed and convenience, the paper says, have made the most basic fraud deterrent — checking IDs — nearly obsolete. Crooks know this, police say, and are abusing the technology with frequency. Sacramento County sheriff’s detectives estimate they receive 140 cases of credit card fraud each month.
 
Another interesting snippet: Most credit card companies and retailers don’t reveal their fraud numbers because if consumers knew how much fraud really occurs, they might lose faith in the credit system and the technology that accompanies it, said Stuart Taylor, vice president of VeriFone, the leading manufacturer of point-of-sale terminals. The company reports that payment systems fraud is growing at an alarming rate in many countries, including the United States.

News: When An ATM Isn’t An ATM

 From the These Thieves Are So Smart, Why Can’t They Get A Real Job Dept comes a story about ATMs. The Canadian Press reports of a scam in Ontario where the bad guys have rigged a number of existing bank machines allowing them to make working copies of customers’ debit cards by putting on a mask.
 
 
The thieves install a false front on an ATM machine for a few hours, painted identically to the actual front of the real machine.When a customer slides a debit card into the card slot on the false front, a small electronic device attached to the front reads all the information contained on the card. A tiny camera installed just above the machine’s number pad videotapes customers as they type in their personal identification numbers. The thieves then produce their own magnetic cards containing identical information to customers’ cards.

Column: Christmas stuff

Loose Wire — Have a Bidet Christmas

 
By Jeremy Wagstaff, from the 27 December 2001 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2001, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
For most of us, this Christmas is going to be what I would call (remember where you heard it first) a “bidet Christmas.” In a nutshellthis means we’re not looking to buy a whole new bathroom, but we’d like to buy something to remind ourselves we’re still consumers and there are still things out there we don’t need but we’ll buy anyway. Hence the bidet.

I’d like to point you in the direction of some items, which might charitably be called gizmo add-ons. You might not be expecting to get the latest gadget in your stocking this year, but you can at least make your existing gadget more functional.

First, your cellphone. The biggest drawback to these things is battery life. True, the batteries on most cellphones last a lot longer than they used to, and charge more quickly, but it’s still a pain to find you’ve run out of juice and are nowhere near an outlet. Help is at hand. Try these:

The Instant Power Charger (www.electric-fuel.com) draws energy from a disposable cartridge the size of a matchbox that in turn draws its power from oxygen in the air. Plug it into a cellphone (or personal digital assistant) and you can start using it straightaway: The battery will be recharged in a couple of hours. The cartridge lasts for three charges.

Consider chargers using normal batteries — you can usually find these at specialist electronic stores or cellphone shops. They’re keyring-size adaptors that fit into the charger socket of your phone and attach to a standard nine-volt battery.

Tired of carrying around an adaptor on business trips? From computer peripheral shops you can buy a cable that plugs into your personal computer’s USB port, which will also do the job of recharging your cellphone (or PDA), albeit it at a somewhat slower rate.

Be careful in all these cases to get the right cable for your cellphone or PDA, since one size doesn’t fit all. And try to buy a reputable brand, since in some cases you could damage your gadget.

Now, that’s the practical stuff out of the way. I love my PDA but I’m mighty bored with carrying the same PDA case all the time. I’d recommend trying out alternative cases. I’ve taken the liberty of road-testing a number on your behalf, my only rule of thumb is the case shouldn’t cost more than the PDA:

Britain’s Scribble (www.scribble.co.uk) also put out an interesting range of cases, including a black plastic Palm case with interchangeable panels, from black to sharp blue. Scribble also make a simple synthetic rubber case with added protection front and back, as do Marware (www.marware.com).

The more rugged adventurer might want to consider GrinderGear, who prefer to call their PDA cases Sport Utility Bags, or SUBs for short. These are padded, dripping with zips, tassels and tags, and come with hooks so you can strut along a ridge with your PDA bouncing off your hip.

Have a good Christmas and New Year-with or without the bidet.