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Microsoft launches 'tagging' app

Microsoft launches 'tagging' app

The Microsoft Tagging system - similar to existing 2D barcode applications - uses a series of multicoloured triangles to encode web addresses.

If you've always wished there was an easy way to be advertised to – sorry, I mean access web-based information from your print media – while you're out and about, Microsoft may have the answer for you.

As demonstrated over on DownloadSquad, the company is launching a beta of a 2D barcoding application which uses multicoloured triangles to pack far more information than is possible with the single-colour 1D traditional approach.

The idea is simple: encode a URL into a “Microsoft Tag” and an application on your mobile 'phone handset – available for download for a variety of platforms including Symbian Series 60 and Windows Mobile – can decode it, allowing the user to visit the site without the tedious address entry stage.

This isn't the first attempt to create such a system, of course: Nokia's S60 'phones already ship with a “Barcode” application which recognises Denso-Wave's QR Code 2D barcode system. In tests, however, I found the Microsoft Tagging application running on my N95 to be a lot faster at recognising a code – although sadly it doesn't support any barcode format except Microsoft's own.

Whether the Microsoft Tag standard can succeed in a marketplace where similar systems have been relegated to the warehouse – and people's avatars – remains to be seen. If nothing else, it's a fun toy – and the company allows individuals to sign up for an account to create their own 'tags' free of charge.

Fancy 'tagging' everything in your house and running around scanning things, or will the system only take off with third-party support? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

37 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
p3n 13th January 2009, 15:01 Quote
Works nicely on my iphone (taking a blurry photo of my monitor!), although it has limited use really since it requires an internet connection to get your treats!
DougEdey 13th January 2009, 15:15 Quote
Can Microsoft ever use/enhance an existing standard? The problem with QR codes is focal length on camera phones
Gareth Halfacree 13th January 2009, 15:21 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by DougEdey
Can Microsoft ever use/enhance an existing standard? The problem with QR codes is focal length on camera phones
That's the issue that the new standard is designed to address: it seems to work from a much blurrier image than existing 2D barcode systems, so you don't need to have the tag in focus in order to get a successful scan.
p3n 13th January 2009, 15:21 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by DougEdey
Can Microsoft ever use/enhance an existing standard? The problem with QR codes is focal length on camera phones

They have done quite well tbh, the colours mixed with the orientation of the triangle allow for a really dodgy picture!
Spiny 13th January 2009, 15:25 Quote
O2 seem to disable the barcode scanner on nokia handsets in the UK too :(
DougEdey 13th January 2009, 15:31 Quote
Considering QR codes are widely spread & used in Japan I don't quite understand why we don't have the support for it out here
ch424 13th January 2009, 15:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spiny
O2 seem to disable the barcode scanner on nokia handsets in the UK too :(

I don't think they do.. my O2 Nokia N82 and N73 both have the barcode scanner. Update your firmware?
mclean007 13th January 2009, 16:38 Quote
Much, MUCH quicker than QR on my Nokia N95 8GB - the camera hadn't even autofocused and I hadn't even finished framing the shot before it recognised the demo tag on the MS download site. I literally swung the camera towards the monitor and as soon as the whole tag (off-centre and off-axis, I'll add) was within the frame, it pinged up the MS site. Once again MS devises its own competing standard, but in this case, for once, it is significantly superior to the existing solutions. Well done Microsoft!
Shuriken 13th January 2009, 16:47 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spiny
O2 seem to disable the barcode scanner on nokia handsets in the UK too :(

Works on my O2 N95 as well, what phone do you have?
Ending Credits 13th January 2009, 16:50 Quote
As long as it's not "on loan".
Gareth Halfacree 13th January 2009, 16:56 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ending Credits
As long as it's not "on loan".
I have one of them. I bypassed the encryption in hardware (really difficult to do - you cut a leg off the IC. Seriously.) and use it to catalogue my books with LibraryThing.
hitman012 13th January 2009, 17:41 Quote
I just pointed my phone at the picture in the article, hit the button and it worked perfectly. Quite impressive.
quack 13th January 2009, 19:14 Quote
It's great that blurry/shaky pics are easier to read than QR or Datamatrix codes. I just tested it out on my iPhone, and N95.

I'd have to say it works better on the N95 than the iPhone... for one the image is clearer (the N95 camera is awesome), but it picks up on the barcode immediately without having to press anything.
wuyanxu 13th January 2009, 19:33 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by p3n
Works nicely on my iphone (taking a blurry photo of my monitor!), although it has limited use really since it requires an internet connection to get your treats!
i don't get the point of this....

there's already an app called SnapTell on the iPhone that can tell you just from a book/DVD/music cover.
mclean007 13th January 2009, 19:57 Quote
@quack - love your avatar mate. Think you're ahead of the curve - I sense tags as avatars is going to be something of a theme for the next wee while!
Smilodon 13th January 2009, 20:02 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by wikipedia
"You have to wonder about a business plan based on the notion that people want to interact with a soda can." -Jeff Salkowski

:)

I guess he has a pretty valid point.
B1GBUD 13th January 2009, 22:20 Quote
Slow news day? woohoo a new barcode, lets break out the party hats and have a little dance shall we?
Gareth Halfacree 13th January 2009, 22:42 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by B1GBUD
Slow news day? woohoo a new barcode, lets break out the party hats and have a little dance shall we?
Love you too, sweetie. Personally I find this kind of technology fascinating, but perhaps that's just me.
quack 13th January 2009, 23:04 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mclean007
@quack - love your avatar mate. Think you're ahead of the curve - I sense tags as avatars is going to be something of a theme for the next wee while!
It wasn't all that long ago that I had a QR code avatar. I'm sure some people remember it. ;)
ch424 13th January 2009, 23:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by quack
It wasn't all that long ago that I had a QR code avatar. I'm sure some people remember it. ;)

Yeah! I remember being infuriated that my N73 couldn't read it! :D
steveo_mcg 13th January 2009, 23:26 Quote
I had a feeling you'd swap to the newer standard when i seen this news article.
quack 14th January 2009, 00:29 Quote
Damn my predicatability!! :p
Smilodon 14th January 2009, 19:07 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by B1GBUD
Slow news day? woohoo a new barcode, lets break out the party hats and have a little dance shall we?

Get a job where you have to punch LOTS of numbers during a day, and you'll see why this is interesting.

Of course RFID tagging of stuff is more interesting, but it can't be easily printed.
Cupboard 14th January 2009, 19:21 Quote
Seems to work really well, even with small pictures and my hand wobbling around. The only minor thing is that it does insist on opening Internet Explorer rather than Opera on my phone (Touch Diamond) which is rather irritating as I dislike IE muchly.

Now all we need is this to appear places.

I suppose they will run out of "tags" fairly quickly so I wonder what their recycling policy is.

edit: 50 triangles, 4 colours (pink, yellow, blue, black/cyan, magenta...) so 50^4 possibilities = 6250000.
They must be going to charge for this though, otherwise you will just get loads of things like Quack's avatar using up combinations.
ch424 14th January 2009, 19:34 Quote
They could just make the triangles smaller and add another row?
Gareth Halfacree 14th January 2009, 19:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cupboard
I suppose they will run out of "tags" fairly quickly so I wonder what their recycling policy is.

edit: 50 triangles, 4 colours (pink, yellow, blue, black/cyan, magenta...) so 50^4 possibilities = 6250000.
They must be going to charge for this though, otherwise you will just get loads of things like Quack's avatar using up combinations.
Huh? The URL is actually encoded in the tag - it's not a 'lookup' system. There's no recycling required. Unless I'm missing something somewhere...
cebla 15th January 2009, 00:32 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cupboard
Seems to work really well, even with small pictures and my hand wobbling around. The only minor thing is that it does insist on opening Internet Explorer rather than Opera on my phone (Touch Diamond) which is rather irritating as I dislike IE muchly.

Now all we need is this to appear places.

I suppose they will run out of "tags" fairly quickly so I wonder what their recycling policy is.

edit: 50 triangles, 4 colours (pink, yellow, blue, black/cyan, magenta...) so 50^4 possibilities = 6250000.
They must be going to charge for this though, otherwise you will just get loads of things like Quack's avatar using up combinations.

You calculation is wrong. It should be 4^50 = 1,267,650,600,228,229,401,496,703,205,376. Otherwise a 32 bit number could only hold 1024 different values, but it can actually hold over four billion. They will never run out of tags even if it is some sort of a lookup system as opposed to being an encoding.
Hex 15th January 2009, 01:01 Quote
Works really nicely on my new Bold. Even when taken on a CRT monitor with the black lines across it, still worked and very quick :)
cebla 15th January 2009, 01:40 Quote
I just tried it out on my phone at it works pretty well. I think you will find that it is looking up the url from an MS site similar to tinyurl or something I don't think the url is actually encoded in it, because you could only fit like 12 characters in the barcode (you have 100 bits to work with).
LordPyrinc 15th January 2009, 04:53 Quote
I can't have a camera phone at my job, so unless I have two phones (impractical) I will never make use of this tech.

I'm still not sure what the purpose of this tech is. "My phone can read triangular heiroglyphs and your's can't?"

Seriously, the whole idea of stuff like this is probably another form of advertising. Scan this symbol and we will tell you what you need to buy.

EDIT: Maybe I'm missing something. Why would you be surfing the web on your big screen and then decide to point your cellphone cam at an image to automatically go to a url on the phone? I can maybe see limited usage with ringtones and mobile apps, but I am missing a more important use?
Gareth Halfacree 15th January 2009, 07:32 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by LordPyrinc
EDIT: Maybe I'm missing something. Why would you be surfing the web on your big screen and then decide to point your cellphone cam at an image to automatically go to a url on the phone? I can maybe see limited usage with ringtones and mobile apps, but I am missing a more important use?
The idea is that the barcodes will be printed on real-world items. The sales pitch usually goes thusly: you're walking down the street and spot a poster advertising a film. You point your 'phone at it, and snap the tag: your 'phone automatically downloads a trailer.

Swap "film" and "trailer" for "band" and "ringtone" or "magazine" and "wallpaper."
Gareth Halfacree 15th January 2009, 07:44 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by cebla
I think you will find that it is looking up the url from an MS site similar to tinyurl or something I don't think the url is actually encoded in it, because you could only fit like 12 characters in the barcode (you have 100 bits to work with).
I'm not sure where you got the 100 bit figure from - it's a lot higher than that! I'm 99% sure it's encoding the URL into the tag - in the self-same way as is done with QR Code, which is only in black and white. I'm prepared to be wrong, mind.
DougEdey 15th January 2009, 09:55 Quote
I have seen QRCodes in use on Pepsi recently, but they were very useless
quack 15th January 2009, 13:22 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
I'm not sure where you got the 100 bit figure from - it's a lot higher than that! I'm 99% sure it's encoding the URL into the tag - in the self-same way as is done with QR Code, which is only in black and white. I'm prepared to be wrong, mind.
I'm pretty sure that the barcode only contains an ID which is then looked up on Microsoft's servers, therefore internet access on your device is required.

If it's a URL you're sent to it
If it's free text, it's displayed on-screen.
If it's a vCard, I presume you get an option to save it to your phone.
You can also set up a tag as a "dialer", which I guess probably dials whatever number was encoded.

You can add start/end dates to the tags, and even passwords.

And it is also possible to pull up stats on your tags to see how many times they've been accessed.

http://i42.tinypic.com/spu2dw.jpg

One clever thing is that they don't even need to be in colour!

:)
mclean007 15th January 2009, 13:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by quack
I'm pretty sure that the barcode only contains an ID which is then looked up on Microsoft's servers, therefore internet access on your device is required.
Definitely mate. It does not encode the URL directly - it is just an identifier that looks up the underlying data (URL, free text, dialler or vCard) on an MS server. 50 four-value (2-bit) symbols (12.5 bytes) is nowhere near enough to encode most URLs, and that's before you take into consideration that the code probably includes some error detection and correction coding, which will use up some of the available data (e.g., I bet the code works whether you scan it "right way up" or "upside-down").

You can test for yourself that it doesn't encode the URL directly. Create a new tag to, say, www.google.com, and download the image. Scan it to check it takes you to Google on your phone. Now, go back into the tagging site and change the URL. Rescan the same tag and now it takes you to a different URL. Furthermore, if you delete the tag on the MS server, it no longer points anywhere, just throws an error. None of that would happen if the tag encoded the URL directly, as I believe the QR tags actually do.
Gareth Halfacree 15th January 2009, 13:38 Quote
Fair enough - I'd assumed it was the same as the QR Code system.
DougEdey 15th January 2009, 14:27 Quote
Quack: the monochrome idea I had thoughts about already since the reader on my phone states not to cover part of the image in shadow
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