Tag Archives: Encodings

The Barcode Revolution

Pacarc, the guys who brought the Mitsubishi Jet Towel to the U.S. are now bringing over another piece of Japan: The design barcode.

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The design barcode, in the words of Pacarc’s James Allard, “seemed so obvious – utilize the last one-inch square of (nearly) blank real estate on product packing for branding or company image purposes. Why didn’t we think of it?! We looked into it and discovered that the mad minds behind it were four Japanese guys in a company called design barcode, inc. We contacted them and after a number of great discussions we are now the exclusive distributor for designed barcodes in the United States.”

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It’s a pretty cool but simple idea: turn the boring barcode into something interesting to look at and to enhance the brand at the same time. Expect a full launch next week. I think it’s a very cool idea, and it’s funky that a company like Pacarc are picking up these ideas and bringing them over the Pacific. Expect to see a big launch next week.

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.

Use Your Phone As A Barcode Scanner

infoSync World reports of new software that allows camera phone users to take a picture of a barcode and then, say, retrieve information about the product: whether it’s cheaper elsewhere, dietary information, or downloading music samples from a poster advertising a new album.

The product, ScanZoom, is made by US-based software company Scanbuy. The article points out that a similar technology is already available in Japan, where phones can recognize e-mail addresses, web site URLs and telephone numbers through their embedded cameras.

News: Barcodes Fight Back

 I love this idea. The New York Times reports that James Patten, a graduate student in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, has come up with a digital tool that can scan the bar code printed on nearly any product, and indicate whether its corporate pedigree is blemished. The Corporate Fallout Detector “combines a bar-code reader with an internal database of pollution complaints and ethics violations packed in a casing resembling a cold-war-era Geiger counter”.
 
Marc Smith, a research sociologist at Microsoft, has meanwhile “been developing a similar device, combining a bar-code scanner, a hand-held computer and wireless Internet access. In a grocery store near a cafe that was promoting a Wi-Fi hot spot, he tested a box of cereal by scanning the bar code and letting the computer nose around on the Internet. It turned out that the cereal had been recalled because its label failed to mention the presence of nuts, a potential hazard to people with allergies.”
 
Both great ideas, but why stop there. You could use barcodes — or their more powerful successors, RFID tags — to hook up with data such as other consumer comments, cheaper products elsewhere, or whatever. Suddenly the tags and barcodes that empower retailers may end up empowering the consumer…