qr-format-wats-copy.jpgNew York-based Scanbuy, the maker of the proprietary “ScanLife” Mobile 2-D Barcode Reader and “EZCode” code format, has been on a tear of late, scoring a series of high-profile campaigns that have buoyed the prospects of the nascent channel and rekindled the “open” versus “closed” mobile barcode debate.

Scanbuy’s recent announcements include an OOH integration campaign with American Airlines at four major airports, including LaGuardia and O’Hare. American Airlines also joined Car & Driver, Citysearch, Discovery Communications and Sears in participating in Scanbuy’s “cross-carrier pilot.” Additionally, Scanbuy has also found success in Europe, launching with MTV France’s “Crispy News” and landing a few handset pre-load deals in Spain. The company also recently announced their ScanLife reader has been ported to the iPhone and will be available for download upon launch of the iPhone App Store (expected June, 2008).

While all of these are obviously positive steps in driving mass adoption of 2D barcodes, it needs to be pointed out that the Scanbuy technology suite is a proprietary (closed) system, meaning that the “EZCodes” in question can only be read by ScanLife’s reader; Consumers attempting to read the EZCodes with other, so-called “open format” readers will not be able to interact with the code. The “open” format, which is used by the Android “ZXing” and many popular European and Asian reader brands, is based on a design by the Japanese Denso Wave company, and it is “open” in the sense that the company does not exercise their patent on the technology – meaning that the standard is essentially “free.”

Business Models. Companies like Scanbuy and ShotCode that utilize a proprietary code format primarily make their money by charging brands to create the codes, as well as redemption fees (which are levied every time a consumer scans one of their codes). This is in stark contrast to the “open” format model, where the printing of codes, “scans” and even some cases the readers themselves are all essentially free. These companies primarily make their money by either bundling in other, related mobile marketing services (such as SMS or mobile website creation and hosting), as well as charging for analytics services quantifying QR campaign performance.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “Why would a brand would pay to use a proprietary 2-D code format when they can essentially use an open format for free?” Well, for now the issue is scale: The install base on proprietary readers is greater than that of the “open” readers. That said, with the coming of Android handsets this Fall (all of which will include an “open” QR reader preloaded on the device), the real question is how long will the proprietary readers be able to maintain their advantage…

In the meantime, competing standards are the price one pays for innovation. Let us hope these issues resolve themselves soon, as the quickest way to kill this exciting new market is with fragmentation. I think we can agree that requiring users to have a half a dozen or so readers installed on their phones is a nightmare we’d just as soon avoid.

qr codes usiPhone, Android Developers Race to Bring Highly Anticipated Technology to Masses.

While we here at mobilestance prefer to poke fun at market predictions rather than make them, we’ve decided to go out on a limb and draw a big ol’ line in the sand: 2008 will be the year that QR codes become viable in the US, thanks largely to the efforts of Apple and Google.

While recent efforts by Scanbuy, Discovery Communications and Citysearch have been impressive in terms of ambition and overall scale, they were nevertheless hamstrung by two significant flaws: (1) they’ve relied on a non-standard, proprietary code format, and (2) nearly all participants were required to download a java app via SMS prior to engagement – a tall order if you’re activating an OOH general market ad campaign. That said, in either an odd coincidence or boldfaced market collusion (kidding), both Google (directly) or Apple (indirectly) have taken the necessary steps to breakdown both of these barriers… the results of which will begin to take affect in and around the third quarter of this year.

To date Apple’s efforts have been uncharacteristically hands off, although this could quickly change in the next iPhone firmware release. Specifically, Apple has created a near perfect platform for a QR reader: a high-quality handset inclusive of a (good enough) two megapixel camera, a publicly available SDK, a bullet-proof distribution model in the iTunes App store (expected this June), and most importantly, a highly-attractive, early-adopting, data-hungry user base.

All of which makes for extremely fertile ground for the (third party) development of an iPhone QR reader, and develop they have. Even without a user-friendly distribution model in place, developers have been busy porting their existing QR readers for use on the iPhone. iMatrix has already developed an iPhone version of it’s dual use (proprietary shotcode + EZcode / standard QR / Datamatrix) reader, and no doubt many more will follow. The iMatrix reader utilizes the iPhone SDK’s relatively robust API set to not only launch web URLs and initiate messaging and voice call events, but can also “add contacts to your Address Book, add events to Calendar [and] add new notes to Notes.” Until the iTunes App store is online the only way to install the reader is a via a fairly manual process (and only on unlocked handsets), but it won’t be long before the average user can easily download and install the reader via what is sure to be a dummy-proof, Apple-branded experience.

Compared to Apple’s laissez faire attitude towards QR, Google has been far more proactive. In addition to make sure that every Android phone will include a non-proprietary reader preloaded as part of the standard application set, Google is also championing an open-source J2ME reader project dubbed “ZXing” (which supposedly stands for “Zebra Crossing”). Not only is Google helping the app’s development in terms of hosting / distribution, it has also been actively recruiting developers to help with the project (I witnessed this first hand at the Nokia Barcamp in New York last November, when Google’s Sean Owen led a packed house through a four-minute ZXing presentation that abruptly ended with a pitch to java developers to aid in its development).

So which will have greater impact on the market? Well, while Google’s approach has the advantage of having the reader app reloaded onto the handset, Apple has the (short term) advantage of actually having handsets on the market! Also, (as stated earlier) Apple could always add a reader app to the next firmware release and instantly increase the size of the US QR-reader install base by a factor of twenty or so. This scenario is not (purely) speculation, as Apple has been known to “pull a Microsoft” and co-opt a particularly useful software app or two… all in the name of “user experience.” Watson, anyone?

More to the point, the reason all of this is so interesting is because of the perfect intersection between technology and lifestyle. Start with the iPhone user base (mobile-dataphilic, upscale, big spending, early-adopting, Gladwell-style alpha-influencers), then add what we can assume to be first Android buyers (ubergeeks, tinkerers, mavericks and malcontents – i.e. current Linux users) and you’ve got the perfect launching pad for a QR movement – and not just any old QR movement, but one of the advertiser-friendly / “interesting to Sandhill road” variety.

Proof of concept video, iPhone QR reader, below:

Achung! Clip is punctuated with annoying whistling, nauseating camera movement and a few failed demos to boot!

scanbuy-citysearch-discovery-copy.jpgScanbuy, Discovery Communications and Citysearch Establish the First Permanent QR Colony in the New World.

In a truly monumental moment in (US-based) mobile marketing, New York-based Scanbuy has teamed up with Discovery Communications and Citysearch to launch by far the largest, most useful and altogether impressive application of QR Codes ever deployed on the North American Continent.

The program focuses on two key areas of QR Code activation: Restaurant reviews and other location-based user generated content (supplied by Citysearch), and “walking tour” audio guides that relate to specific San Francisco landmarks (courtesy of Antenna Audio, A Discovery Communications company). Consumers access both services by scanning an “EZcode” (Scanbuy’s 2D barcode format) with Scanbuy’s “Scanlife” QR Reader. Those without the reader installed on their handsets (read: most people) will first need to download the reader to their device, which is done via a simple text-message / WAP-push mechanism.

  • Restaurant / Business Guides (Citysearch). Scanbuy announced that “more than 500 restaurants and businesses in San Francisco will display ScanLife 2D barcodes” by way of window clings (see image, below). Scanning the codes will then “deliver Citysearch’s original and consumer-generated reviews directly to a user’s phone, allowing immediate access to relevant information and eliminating the extra steps of typing lengthy website addresses into mobile browsers.” Citysearch is distributing the window clings to San Francisco businesses, inclusive of the prominent EZ Codes specific to each restaurant or business.
  • Audio Guides (Discovery / Antenna Audio). Visitors to the City by the Bay will have the opportunity to access “walking tour” style content in the form of audio clips, images, maps, and other information relating the city and its more noteworthy landmarks. In this case the EZ Codes are being promoted in posters, bus shelters, street teams and other outdoor media (see images, below), with eventual plans to place the codes on or (most likely) near the city landmarks themselves. Scanning any of these codes will automatically launch the Discovery Audio mobile site in the phone’s browser, a snappy little portal that renders quite well in tested handsets. Content is organized by first neighborhood (Downtown, North Beach, and The Wharf / Marina) and then by landmark. The brief audio clips are quite good, framed as an “insiders view” to the city, and are rendered in the .3GP format. A few samples of the audio clips are as follows: sanfranciscoferrybuilding.3gp, palacehotel.3gp, baybridge.3gp and chinatown.3gp.

Commentary. While 2008 was the year that many anticipated mass use of QR codes would begin in the US, it is doubtful that anyone would have predicted an implementation approaching this scale or utility. Many thanks to Shab, of whom I owe $5 for giving us the heads-up on this. This is a big one, folks…

Click on the thumbnails below to view images:

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