Microsoft recently took the wraps off a new barcoding standard. The new system is called Tags and uses triangles arranged in a 5 x 10 grid with 4 different colors to produce a high capacity color barcode. What makes this new system better, or worse, than regular barcodes, QR Codes, or any of the other scanning systems already being used?
There are a couple significant advantages to this new system. Whether or not this is enough for the world to switch and start using Microsoft’s Tags has yet to be seen.
The fist big difference that you will notice is the use of color on this code. There are 4 colors – Black, Pink, Blue, and Yellow. The use of color means that the camera can pick out the image in poor conditions and still correctly determine the code. It doesn’t matter if it’s poor lighting or a blurry image, the camera can still decipher the code. As well, the use of color means that storing 1 byte (or 8 bits) requires just 4 symbols. By comparison, QR Code requires 8 symbols to store the same amount of data.
Typical barcodes and QR codes are black with a white background providing easy contrast for scanning. With the Tag solution, the black background followed by a thin 2 pixel wide contrasting boarder is required for the camera to successfully pickup the image and process it. I tested this with a white, yellow, and black boarder. The black border would not allow the camera to correctly frame the tag and thus not process it. Both yellow and white worked without any problems.
The next big difference is the shape – a 5 x 10 grid of triangles while the more traditional barcodes are rectangular and filled with vertical lines. By default, the Tag image is 0.625 x 0.625 inches (1.588 x 1.588 cm or 68 x 68 pixels) but can be as large as 120 inches square for easier reading for a distance.
Scanning the tag from your cell phone is surprisingly quick and easy. Once you have the application installed, just point your camera at the code and on most devices you won’t even have to click the camera. It will automatically detect the tag and kick of the needed action. I found that the tag could even be correctly read when shooting on a sharp angle and in low light.
Aside from the physical differences like shape and color, Microsoft has added a powerful analytical engine on the back end. You can create various reports to analyze the performance of your tags. As well, you can group similar tags together in a category and then report on the performance of the whole group. This is a huge bonus because it allows you to better understand the reach of your marketing campaign or the interest level of people looking at your product and wanting more information.
A Tag can be more than just a URL to product information. When you create a Tag, you can choose to populate it with a URL, vCard, phone number, or just plain old text. If you select plain text, you can enter up to 200 alpha-numeric characters and even password protect the text with a maximum 20 character long password! All Tags have a start and end date allowing you to co-ordinate the Tag with different initiatives. The end date is not required and the start date is the current date by default.
One of the little pains with the Tag system is after you have scanned a Tag that returns a vCard. The vCard is saved to your device and then imported into your contacts. Once it’s imported into your device, the file still remains on your device. It would be nice if it deleted the file instead of leaving a collection of card01.vcf, card02.vcf, etc.. files on the device.
Overall, there are some really cool features that Microsoft’s Tag system brings to the table over the traditional barcode systems. There’s only one thing left to consider – cost. What’s the cost of using Microsoft’s Tag technology? The smaller reader application that you install on your mobile device is free. You can download it directly on your phone by browsing to http://gettag.mobi from your mobile device, or vis it Microsoft’s Tag site and enter your mobile number to send a link directly to your device. Publishers are free to create and use Tags during the beta period. At the end of the beta period Microsoft may charge for certain aspects. At this time, there is no clear indication of what they may charge for and how much that might be. They do say that any Tags created during the beta period will still work for a period of 2 years.�