The most promising way to link cellphones with physical objects is a new generation of bar codes: square-shaped mosaics of black and white boxes that can hold much more information than traditional bar codes. The cameras on cellphones scan the codes, and then the codes are translated into videos, music or text on the phone screens.This is a cool technology that once again shows how far behind the Japanese the US is when it comes to cellphones and broadband.
The wireless companies have other options to help cellphones interact with the physical world. They could, for instance, adopt image recognition software, which would allow phones to recognize anything — a Coca-Cola can, for example — and deliver related messages. Or, text messaging, currently the most common way that advertisers interact with consumers on their phones, has many advertiser applications.
Even if the wireless companies adopt the bar codes, they will have several formats to choose from. The most widely used ones have names like Semacode, QR Code and Qode.
In Japan, the codes did not become mainstream until the largest cellphone companies started loading the code readers on all new phones a few years ago. Now, millions of people have the capability built into their phones, and businesses, in turn, are using them all over — on billboards, street signs, published materials and even food packaging.
In Japan, McDonald’s customers can already point their cellphones at the wrapping on their hamburgers and get nutrition information on their screens. Users there can also point their phones at magazine ads to receive insurance quotes, and board airplanes using their phones rather than paper tickets. And film promoters can send their movie trailers from billboards. Hospitals put them on prescriptions, allowing pharmacies to instantly scan the medical information rather than read it. Supermarkets stick them on meat and egg packaging to give expiration dates and even the names of the farmers who produced them.
Advertisers say they are interested in offering similar capabilities in the United States, but cellphones in the States do not come with the necessary software. For now, consumers have to download the technology themselves.
Executives at Verizon, AT&T and Sprint declined to say whether they were in discussions with the companies that make the code reading technology. Bar code companies said the carriers stood to benefit from the codes because they might encourage consumers to add Internet service plans to their accounts and spend more time on their phones.
I particularly like the idea of using this to get the environmental and social backstory of products. Imagine going to your local grocery store and getting additional information about the food you are buying. Or getting a video of how it was made. Or finding the amount of carbon emissions producing the item made.
Hopefully this technology will make it to the US and become widely adapted soon.
via NY Times