I started using ceTwit today as the Twitter app for my HTC Touch Pro. There will likely be a post in the near future about that, but while reading the developer’s blog I stumbled across a post about Microsoft Tag. So what is it?
Microsoft Tag is a type of barcode (wikipedia), more specifically a High Capacity Color Barcode (HCCB). Barcodes are meant to store information in a way that computers can easily read.
We are most familiar with UPCs, which are on almost every single product we purchase. UPCs are groups of white and black stripes which, when read, represent numbers that correspond to product information. The UPC format is only one dimensional, because only lines (one dimension) are used to encode the information. This significantly limits the amount of information that can be stores in each UPC.
Microsoft’s Tag builds on top of the UPC model in pretty interesting ways.
- Barcode is 2-D - The barcode is now two dimensional, which means that significantly more information can be stored in the same amount of space.
- Use of Color - The HCCBs are also, as the name suggests, printed in color. The introduction of color makes sense, but could also be a bit sketchy, as discussed in the caveats. Color means even more information in the same space. Wikipedia states 3,500 characters per square inch. That’s a lot of information!
- Shapes - Instead of traditional lines or boxes, Tag uses colored triangles. They could expand this in the future to use an even greater variety of shapes. Different shapes could yield an even greater information density.
- Stores Different Types of Data - Tags can serve as URLs, contact information, text or even phone numbers. The possibilities for this are huge too. The viewer can follow the URL to a website with more information, automatically add contacts to the phonebook, display more text to read, or quickly call the phone number. This is really convenient for the user, since the reader can automatically take action.
Creating a Tag is really easy. Just go to the Tag website in order to sign up and start creating tags immediately. The web interface is really easy to use. I made the tag above in literally just a few seconds. Disclaimer: making it into a GIF to put in this post took extra time.
You can download a Tag reader for your mobile phone’s browser from gettag.mobi. They have versions for iPhone, Windows Mobile, Palm, Symbian, Blackberry, and other supported phones. Currently, the reader only has support for Tag, but it will likely read other barcodes in the future. The Tag reader also supports sharing and storing tags; you can tell your friends, or save it for later.
Possible caveats I see with Tag: - Tag website beta is free, for now. The services will probably be made into a paid service in the near future. The service being free now might lead to a frenzy of people testing out Tag, but if it goes commercial, general use will probably decline. The commercial market looks to be where this is targeted anyhow by the looks of this demo video. I think it would be awesome to have a Tag generated for each blog post, or a Tag sticker for a website, but if it’s not free, I likely could not justify the cost. - Use of color could restrict Tag’s adoption. Black-and-white only, or other medium which have no support for colors, cannot use this version of Tag. Here I am really thinking of newsprint. Magazines, flyers, and other advertisements will have an easier time using the technology. Who is to say they won’t release a B&W version. They could even have color Tag readers be backward compatible. This is all my speculation though. - Focus on print media. The website only allows one to export a Tag to PDF, XPS, or WMF. I certainly understand that barcodes are easy ways of giving information to consumers, but think about being able to give your contact information to someone just by displaying your Tag on your phone’s screen and have them snap a picture of it. There is no need to send SMS, email, connect via Bluetooth, verbally give the number, etc. This would be great for use on business cards! I can’t currently think of as many uses on websites viewed on a laptop/desktop, but getting the contact/phone number quickly is certainly one. - Must have internet connection. The Tag reader must connect to a web service each time it reads a tag. This is seemingly innocuous, but for people without data plans on their phone, or those in a poor reception area, this inhibits use. Granted, the reader does have the option to store the Tag for possible later use. This is actually a plus for producers. Server access for each Tag allows possible tracking of all types of statistics for the use of your Tag.
Unsurprisingly, Tag has competitors. The list of 2-D barcodes on Wikipedia is definitely not short. QR Code (wikipedia) is another 2-D barcode, but it lacks color. I am pretty sure I have seen QR Code (or something very similar) in use on UPS shipping labels. Before now, I really had no idea what they really were.
A plus for Tag is the backing of Microsoft. The giant certainly has a lot of resources to help Tag’s agenda. The ISAN-IA recently picked up HCCB for standardization, so we could possibly see Tag on products or advertisements (other than Microsoft) very soon. Microsoft makes it really easy, as mentioned earlier, for anyone to create Tags for free (as of now), but they also have a robust tracking section on the site. This will allow publishers/producers/creators/whatever to track information about their Tags. Hopefully, we will see some APIs for developers to integrate Tag support into existing applications.
This is a very cool service from Microsoft and I will keep an eye out for any Tags to scan!
Related: Microsoft Tag - kosertech
Microsoft Tag: Microsoft’s own 2D barcode