Microsoft Rethinks Mobile Barcode Approach

Microsoft, a vocal proponent of barcode scanning, is rethinking its approach. Microsoft’s Tag mobile code reader applications will now provide support for the popular QR format and near-field communication alongside its proprietary Tag technology. The company insists the change doesn’t mean it’s scaling back its Tag efforts, but rather that it hopes to make the entire code scanning process more accessible for users, and grow its own offering in the process.

“One of the biggest things we kept on hearing is that there are issues with adoption, and people were frankly just annoyed with how fragmented the landscape is,” said Nick Martin, online community manager for Microsoft Tag. “There was an opportunity to consolidate the market, which will ensure a better experience for the user.”

Martin implied Microsoft is less concerned with the specific technology used to facilitate user interaction with the codes, than it is with the value it can offer publishers and marketers around back-end analytics and post-scan experiences. “This offers marketers and agencies more freedom around how they use mobile codes,” he said.

Meanwhile marketers suggest a single platform through which users can interact with multiple code types can only be a good thing for driving adoption, and familiarizing users with the concept of interacting with content through their mobile devices.

“Realistically we have to recognize that code scanning hasn’t really taken off,” commented Paul Gelb, mobile practice lead at Razorfish. “Marketers should be encouraged by the willingness of major players to postpone some of their monetization and competitive strategies until adoption has increased and marketers are finding it easy to execute.”

In other words there won’t be much for Microsoft to monetize unless it can encourage many more people to snap its codes than are doing so currently. It’s telling that Microsoft is bowing to the demands of coalescing a fragmented market rather than fight tooth and nail for its own technology to win out. After all at this point they’re all losers since there’s simply not enough scale.

“Microsoft has done a good job with its publisher relationships, but Tag hasn’t spread much through other forms of media yet,” said David Berkowitz, vp of emerging media at 360i.

Ultimately the success of Tag and mobile codes in general still depends on consumers’ willingness to interact with the codes, though, which in turn depends on incentivising them to so. Although marketers haven’t done a great job in communicating the value of the codes to consumers to date, Gelb suggests they’re learning from their experiences nonetheless. “This may not be the final technology that we use to makes consumer touchpoints interactive,” he said. “I see a lot more promise in image and audio recognition, but QR codes are good for introducing the concept.”

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