Barcodes aren’t just used to manage inventory, track shipments and scan prices at the check-out register anymore. Now consumers armed with a basic Web-enabled camera phone (not just fancy iPhones) can capture a new type of barcode image to unlock a world of information, from movie showtimes to contacts for your address book.
You don’t need to be a corporation to create your own barcode: You can do it on your computer and slap it on your business card, then allow contacts to link to virtually any data you want (your résumé, a blog, etc.).
Unlike UPC codes, which are rectangular and involve a combination of thin and thick lines, 2D barcodes are square-shaped and involve square dots, short bars and squiggly lines.
“Regular barcodes are one dimensional, they scan only from side to side,” says David Javitch, vice president of marketing for 2D technology company Scanbuy Inc. “With 2D codes, the information is represented up and down as well as side-to-side, so you can get more information onto them.”
Scanbuy began producing 2D barcodes for use in the U.S. in 2008. Now, their codes are popping up everywhere, from websites to the printed page. “In the month of January, usage was up by a few hundred percent over the month of December,” Javitch said. “We expect that exponential growth to continue for the next 12 to 18 months.”
How do 2D barcodes work? Essentially, you just hover your cell phone’s camera in front of a 2D barcode as if you were going to take a photo. Without even taking a picture, your cell phone camera recognizes the code—pretty quickly in my tests using a Motorola Droid—and the phone’s browser goes straight to the 2D code’s corresponding website. So instead of typing a Web address into your cell phone’s browser (not always convenient, especially when it’s cold outside!) it reads the barcode and opens the information for you.
In order to get Javitch on the phone for an interview, I went to Scanbuy’s website and scanned a 2D. The company’s information downloaded directly into my phone’s address book—all I had to do was hit “send” to make the call.
Setting up the service was a snap. Using my Droid’s browser, I went to scanbuy.com and downloaded the free software. (The application works with nearly all Web-enabled camera phones, Javitch says, and yes, there is an iPhone app, too—ScanLife.) The install determined that I was a Verizon subscriber and that I was using a Droid, not another Moto phone such as the Windows Mobile-based Q9. (A different application would have downloaded if I were using a different Motorola camera phone.) The software downloaded in less than a minute, and then I was off and running.
I’m not the only one running ScanBuy software: More than half a million Americans people have downloaded its application in the U.S. What’s more, a handful of Sprint phones now come with the application pre-installed.
Nike has used the codes in their ads (Where can I buy those sweet LeBron shoes? Oh, here!) and real estate listings use them, too (Does that three-bedroom condo have one or two baths? Oh, two!). Even Sears is using them in displays to point potential buyers to product reviews online.
Print publications are starting to use 2D codes, too. Newspapers put them next to stories to direct readers to additional information online, such as fresh developments in a breaking news story. Esquire is using 2D codes in a March story about men’s fashion essentials. Readers can use the 2D codes to “order the clothes right from the magazine,” Javitch says. “All sorts of additional content can be unlocked with 2D codes. An entire magazine can be interactive, even the ads.”
As you may have noticed, Vegas Seven uses 2D codes. In its first edition (Feb. 4), I scanned a 2D barcode to enter a contest to win the DVD version of Couples Retreat (please, please, please let me win!). My phone’s camera hovered over the code and I was immediately provided several options to send a message to enter the contest. I could have used Facebook, Gmail, a text message or any number of Twitter apps I have on my phone.
In another test, I scanned a 2D code from a promotional sticker that was distributed at a trade show by a group called Open Internet Now. Placing the code in front of my Droid’s camera, I was taken to the group’s website and asked to sign a petition to support the Federal Communications Commission’s rules regarding freedom on the Internet.
I signed up, providing my e-mail and within moments I received an e-mail that I could send straight to the FCC to show my support of the new proposal. I also received an Open Internet Now T-shirt with a 2D code printed on the cotton cloth. Surprisingly, the scan still worked—when I smoothed out the wrinkles.
Clearly, you can do some pretty cool stuff with a barcode and a regular camera phone. But don’t just take my word for it; visit getscanlife.com and download the free software. You’ll find several 2D codes throughout this issue of Vegas Seven—including one with this column.