Friday, March 20, 2009

2D Barcodes to assist mobile content download

The 2D barcode model by its very nature works well in facilitating the download of content ( wall papers, ringtones, games etc) on the mobile device. I have been a strong supporter of the use of the barcodes in helping download content and I believe that digital content rather than mobile advertising would make the 2D barcode scanning adoption wider.

The use of 2D Barcodes (QR Codes) began in Japan and we had all sorts of applications coming out including the use of barcodes to deliver content.
The first time I saw barcodes being used for downloads close to home was back in 2006 when GetJar was using the GOD application to allow users to scan ShotCodes . The model was simple, the scanner worked on most camera phones, the Shotcode was easy to scan even with the quality of images from most cell phone cameras at that time, the scanner would shoot the code and launch the WAP browser that pointed to the download page for the application. The barcodes were published on the website under the Camera download section.  For some reason, I guess GetJar stopped using the 2D barcode system on their site, I do not find it anymore.

I recently came across Cellufun using the same download model using ScanLife EzCodes to facilitate downloads.  They have placed a barcode with all their content, the barcode is displayed in a "GET IT NOW" web widget displayed on either the left or right of all content pages. The barcode currently points to the main cellufun wap site rather than to the individual content page. I was hoping for a similar flow as the Camera Download on GetJar earlier but was disappointed. Its promising to see barcodes pop up on content download sites nevertheless. 

Competing with SMS
The short code SMS technology has long been used in downloading content and rightly so, it works !!!. I believe the mobile 2D barcode technology will work even better in some cases. The way I see it, usability plays a big role:  Launch the scanner app ( hopefully through a shortcut key), wave it over the barcode and voila information is captured and sent as opposed to opening up the compose box and texting in the characters and pressing the send button.
 SMS technology will still remain superior when it comes to pushing downloads on radio or television ( I really don't see people scanning the barcodes of their TV screens ... not yet at least) but its the pushing of content downloads from printed material and regular web sites where the 2D barcode technology can make a significant impact.This being said, the industry behind the 2D barcode technology needs to get its act together and tackle the issues:
1. Standardization: The industry is going through its own "browser wars" phase with everyone coming out with their own proprietery 2d symbology.  The industry must agree on certain formats, I do not think just the one format would be the clear winner as every symbology has its advantages in its own space. 
2. Interoperability: Lets face it, there are plenty of Scanner applications out there and as many resolution systems. The systems need to learn to talk the same language to interoperate. The GSMA and OMA standards for mobile barcodes looks like a step in the right direction.
3. Preloads Preloads Preloads: Burn the scanner app within the native camera module. The end user doesnt need a scanner app, he already has the camera. The 2D system that does this on a larger scale wins...

Peek into the Future
The 2D barcode technology has a Ace up its sleeve, "download content directly from the barcode" , No data connection required(take that SMS).  Imagine downloading a game or wallpaper without a data connection.

Applix and Mediaseek had announced that would work together on a camera based content management system (using CamReader) back in february. The CamReader app in Japan has already been use to download Jpegs and videos directly off QR codes.
The Mobile Multi Color Composite 2D codes (MMCC)created a buzz when they were announced and show a lot of promise in delivering content.  Cant wait till they get adopted in the main stream.

The V-Code (video 2D code) is another technology that could completely revamp the content download space. The only drawback is that since its a video code, it cannot be used on printed material but delivering content from websites would be a breeze especially in markets like India where data service on mobile phones is just picking up and there is a big demand for graphic content.

Barcodes, Barcodes and more Barcodes....
Qr Code started off as de facto standard in Japan but never really caught on in the rest of the world in the early years as the phone cameras were incapable of handling the density, this seems to be changing now as there is a wider adoption of smart phones. Datamatrix, more prevelant in Europe did get a good start with the Imode specification in France but I am now not sure as to its international appeal. Proprietery technologies (EzCode, Qode, BeeTagg, Microsoft Tag ... ) have had success in the recent years in several mobile phone based campaigns due to the ease of scanning that they offer.

I do believe that the 2D barcode industry should actively focus on the digital content market and provide solutions that make it easier for content providers to push content to the end user through the 2d codes. Content embedding barcodes show promise but until they become a reality the 2d barcode technology can rely on the on the in-direct model of taking the end user to the wap page with the link to download the content. 

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