Microsoft Tags Brings Barcodes to the Phone

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One of the big things that cell phones really need is a way to scan barcodes.  Ideally it would be nice to scan in standard barcodes such as UPCs.  But in other cases it would be nice to just enter a single piece of information in to the phone quickely such as URLs, email addresses, etc.  This is where the Microsoft Tag will provide a good solution.

For instance, here is a Microsoft Tag for the StepOne Blog.  I can just print this barcode on my business card, or marketing collateral and a mobile user can just “snap” the image with my mobile camera and it will launch Internet Explorer and display our blog.  Very cool, and great for our marketing.

The other thing that’s very cool is that I don’t even have to print the Microsoft Tag on paper.  It will work on anything with reasonable resolution that works with a mobile camera.  The one I really like is scanning the image off of the computer monitor, but it can also scan off of the TV, movie screen, side of a bus, whatever.  This is great for getting long URLs in to the phone quickly.

Microsoft Tag Reader

To try it out, download the application from  If you do this from your mobile device it will identify the correct download for your phone and provide it to you.  Alternately, you can download the application on your desktop and then transfer it to the phone yourself.

It’s also nice that Microsoft has realized that not everyone is running Windows Mobile and are providing download for a large number of phones.  The current list is: Android, Blackberry, iPhone, Java 2 Micro Edition, PalmOS, Symbian S60, Symbian S60 1st Edit, Symbian S60 2nd Edit, Symbian S60 3rd Edit, Windows Mobile.  A pretty good list.

Microsoft Tag Limitations

However the only way to “snap” a Microsoft Tag is to use the Microsoft Tag Reader.  Just looking at it I can already see potential applications that might take advantage of Microsoft Tags, but since there isn’t an SDK to work with them.  However, at NRF I spoke with some of the Microsoft Reps and they said it was under consideration.

The other limitation that I see is how the tags are processed.  What happens is Tag Reader “snaps” the tag and the data is then sent to the Microsoft Tag site which then decodes the tag and provides the information required.  This means a couple of things.  First of all, you must be connected to the Internet in order to “snap” a Microsoft Tag.  So disconnected use is out.

The other part of that restriction is that I can not dynamically generate tags on the fly.  For instance, I’d like to generate a unique tag that contains the user ID, and provide a custom tag to direct them to their web account.  However, since each tag must be created at the Microsoft Tag site this isn’t practical.

However it is very cool technology and only in Beta.  I’m looking forward to see how it will be used.

More Information:

The Internet UPC Database

In a previous post I discussed how to get EAN and UPC barcode information from the Global Electronic Party Information Register (GEPIR).

This provides a great resource for the official registration for the barcode, but provides very little information about the actual item. Typically what you’d like to be able to do is scan a UPC or EAN, and then be able to provide information about the actual item.  Most important is a description of the item, size/weight, vendor, and other information.

The Internet UPC Database is a website that provides access to this type of data for almost 1,000,000 of items.  The interface is very simple, just type in your UPC or EAN number and basic information is displayed for the item.  In the case, that your items does not appear, you get an Item Not Found message and the opportunity to contribute your item to the database.

In my testing I was pleasantly surprised by the number of items in the database.  It had a lot of the items in my office, and even ones I was surprised it would know about, like this Office Depot composition book.  The data also seems to be well maintained and kept clean.

It is also possible to download the data.  However, the database is over 100MB and growing fast, so unless you have a significant application I’d just access the website directly.

Getting Barcode Information from GEPIR

GS1 Global GEPIR

GS1 Global GEPIR

There has always been a mystery about the information contained in the barcodes we see every day.  Actually there is a lot of information contained in the barcodes that is useful if we could only find the information. In the past this was difficult, but now the GS1 is providing public access to much of this information with the Global Electronic Party Information Register (GEPIR).

The GEPIR service contains basic information on over 1,000,000 companies, provided by the GS1 Member Organizations in over 100 countries.  This provides a  global database of company, location, and item information for GS1 barcodes around the world.

This free service provides a simple way to answer the following questions:

  • Who made the product with an EAN or UPC barcode?  Get company information from a GTIN (EAN/UPC)
  • Where was this carton shipped from?  Get carton and other shipping container information with the SSCC barcodes.
  • What is a company’s GLN number?  Look up a company by GLN number, or search by name

All this and more is provided by GEPIR. Related Links: