Microsoft Tags Brings Barcodes to the Phone

StepOne Blog (www.StepOneSystems.com/blog/)

StepOne Systems Blog

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 http://gettag.mobi/.  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:

Motorola Joins the Android Revolution

In a recent development, Motorola is making a major investment in supporting Android on mid-range Motorola phones.  In the high end handhelds they are still supporting Windows Mobile/CE, but in the mid-range they are adopting Android.

This will finally bring a real application environment to the average phone and people will no longer have to make the decision to invest hundreds of dollars in a Blackberry or Windows Mobile Phone.  Now they will have a mobile platform with a complete set of mobile capabilities.

The other advantage that Motorola has in this market is that their legacy in barcode scanning through their Symbol acquisition.  We can now realistically have barcode scanning in a mid-range handheld which will open a whole new world of applications such as ShopSavvy.  In the past Symbol has made attempts to bring scanning to the mobile phone, but with very limited success.

Of course the next question will be with the higher end terminals.  With all of the capabilities that are coming with the Android platform, what will happen to the high-end terminals.

Is my SmartPhone my new computer? YES!

Information Week 10/06/08

Information Week 10/06/08

Guest post from Todd Berner

Information Week put together a very interesting article as it proposes the idea that your smartphone or mobile computer is your next computer.  I think the answer is a resounding yes!

If the last 15 years in IT have taught us anything, it is that our appetite for access to information and communication is almost endless.  We want and need it immediately…right at the very moment it is generated, collected, or required for action.  It should not be separated from the task at hand no matter how trivial the task might be.

Current “smartphone” demand is focused primarily on communication (voice-driven cell phones with Windows Mobile, Blackberry, and I-Phone).  Email, texting, and mobile web access have vastly increased the means by which we communicate as well as the locations and times in which it is available.

The next challenge comes from adding meaningful information to the smartphone… enterprise applications and tools that are built not only to fit within the limits of the smaller technology (CPU, batteries, small screens, etc.), but the work flow that corresponds to the application function and the business rules established by the company.

Should be fun!

Here is the link to the article.

Retail Investment in Mobile Technology

With everything that is happening with the collapse of the world financial markets and the impact it will inevitably have on retail sales, it makes me wonder what will happen with investment in retail technology, and in particular for us, what does it me to mobile retail software sales.

For those companies in a financial position there are a lot of good reasons to make technology investments including competitive advantage, cost management/reductions, and maximizing ROI.

Reason 1: Competitive Advantage

One of the more compelling reasons to invest in technology during a market downturn is to gain a competitive advantage over your rivals.   Historically companies have trimmed IT expenditures during a recession, but take a look at the case of Best Buy during the post 9/11 contraction, The Inevitable Recession: Start Planning for the Rebound Now, which describes how Best Buy was able to leap frog past Circuit City and CompUSA.  This IT investment allowed Best buy to become the dominant player in consumer electronics.  Best Buy is also continuing this strategy with their Napster acquisition, Best Buy completes tender offer for Napster.

This is the basic strategy of leveraging an advantage to develop or extend a competitive advantage.  So look at anyone doing reasonably well in the retail space to be extending their advantage.  Take for instance Wal-Mart ignites a toy war.  Thus if you have the ability to improve your retail systems when your competitors are unable you may be able to create a sustainable strategic advantage.

Reason 2: Cost Management

When the economy is doing well and everybody is making money, management rarely cares about controlling retail costs.  However, in an economic downturn saving every penny becomes increasingly important.  In retail some of the more important ways to manage costs are reducing inventory costs, while still maintaining adequate stock levels, and reducing personnel costs.

The interesting part, is that these are the same areas that mobile technology can make a real difference.  If you want to manage your inventory levels, you first must have an accurate count of inventory.  This is where Mobile Inventory Management really makes a difference by providing accurate back of the store inventory changes (Receiving, Transfers, and Mark Out of Stock) as well as Physical Inventory and Cycle Count applications.  When combined with the store’s POS records, management has everything required to make well informed decisions.

Reason 3: Maximize ROI

In the past, deploying a new mobile application meant deploying a new mobile infrastructure (mobile terminals, mobile printers, and a wireless LAN), but with the capabilities of modern mobile terminals, adding a new application can be just a matter of loading new software on the terminal.  Thus if a company has already deployed a mobile infrastructure, they can achieve a significant follow on ROI with a small incremental investment,

In many cases this opportunity existing since retailers have deployed a new infrastructure, but have only deployed a minimal set of applications.  Often this investment was part of a DOS-to-CE migration that  was limited to redeploying existing applications with a terminal emulator.  In this scenario, there is a great opportunity to take advantage of the mobile infrastructure that is in place to deploy new mobile retail applications.

Conclusion: Time to Invest in Mobile Retail Technology

Therefore despite the difficult economic environment, it may still be time for your company to invest in Mobile Retail Technology.  A small investment now may be the strategic difference between just surviving the current business environment, and creating a long-term strategic advantage for your company.

Mobile Signature Capture Applications

Customer Signature

Customer Signature Form

If you’ve ever signed for a package from FedEx or UPS, then you’ve used a mobile signature capture application. While signing for deliveries is one of the more popular uses of mobile signature capture, it is just one of many mobile applications that utilize signature capture.

Mobile Signature Capture Applications

In mobile field service applications, one of the most important drivers for the mobile application is a signature capture. Whether this is to authorize payment, verify the delivery or service, or just identifying the person performing the task. All of these uses of mobile signature capture are used to provide a further level of confirmation that the person signing is authorized, similar to signing a credit card receipt.

Here is a sample of some common mobile signature capture applications:

  • Proof of Delivery (POD)/Route Accounting (RTA)
    The application is built to track the delivery of packages to a customer, or multiple customers on a route.  In this application, the recipient of the delivery signs on the terminal to indicate that they have received a delivery.
  • Mobile Point of Sale (MPOS)
    In MPOS the application provides a mobile version of the store’s checkout register.  The clerk uses a handheld to scan the customer’s items to be purchased and the signature is used to authorize the credit card payment.
  • Service Authorization
    A Field Service technician uses the mobile application to track the services provided for their customers, and the customer signs the terminal to authorize the performance of the service.
  • Inspection Verification
    In Inspection applications the inspector uses the terminal to provide a thorough and structured inspection of the site.  Upon completion, the inspector signs the terminal to verify that they have performed the specified inspection.

Saving the Signature

In principle signature capture is very straightforward, just sign on the line and the application saves the signature.  But as they say, the devil is in the details.  All signature capture solutions start the same way, they capture mouse events as the user draws their signature.  It’s once the signature has been captured the question becomes how to store the signature.  The typical choices are to save the signature as an image file or as a meta representation of the signature.  As usual there are advantages to each.

In the case where the signature is stored as an image file (.gif, .jpeg, or .png), the advantage is the ease of drawing the signature.  Just display the image file.  However what you gain in ease of use, you lose in efficiency and flexibility.  The size of a typical image signature is a minimum of 1KB and increases as the size of the image increases.  Individually this is not a large file, but as the number of signatures grows, the data space can become significant.  Also, scaling of the image can be a challenge.

The other method to store the signature is to save a condensed representation of the data that can be easily reconstructed.  In this case, the signature is saved as a series of strokes that is then stored in a compressed format.  This advantage of this method is that the file can easily be generated when signing and typically creates a signature in the 100-200 byte range.   However, in order to display the signature a program must be run to convert the data back to an image format.  In addition, there is not a standard format for storing the signature information so a different format and display program is required by each vendor.

StepOne Mobile Applications

StepOne Systems provides a wide selection of mobile signature capture applications.  If you are interested in mobile signature solution contact us.