Wednesday, August 29, 2007

QR Codes On Rice

Ever wondered if your food is safe to eat? I haven't, but I'm just trying to avoid the dreadful truth. Japan has implemented its food tracking system (with QR Codes) for some time now (supposedly due to the news of the Mad Cow disease and counterfeit products back in 2001) and Taiwan's Council of Agriculture has decided to follow suit.

QR Codes are placed on certified products so that the complete manufacturing process of agricultural products can be easily looked up by consumers. Of course, too much data can sometimes be a bad thing for mobile devices, so one gets only the most important information, such as date produced. And since mobile barcode readers and mobile internet access still aren't popular enough with the general public, kiosks are placed at selected locations (supermarkets) for 2D barcode scanning purposes. This is the second year of action for these QR Code stickers (it has been redesigned), for more information, visit the Taiwan Agriculture and Food Traceability System website.

I wonder how this is going to work if these products get distributed to the traditional markets though, where the shoppers tend to be of the mom/grandmom demographics and usually do not have or know how to use mobile barcode readers?

I also have doubts as to whether they encoded their QR Codes correctly, since both the barcodes displayed on their website and an actual sticker revealed a curious looking URL when scanned (something like HTTP>&&QRC.TW&_Q)1000mTAHB0pnRQ).

References: QuickMark, InfoTimes, EpochTimes, COA, TAFT

Thursday, August 23, 2007

2007 Taipei Cultural Passport

Back in June, Taipei City Government's Department of Culture Affairs launched their annual campaign to promote Taipei's tourist attractions called the 2007 Taipei Cultural Passport. They published a little booklet filled with sightseeing information and are freely distributed at various locations such as the airport or the MRT.

This year, QR Codes were promoted as a new feature on the international version of the Taipei Cultural Passport. Their reasoning behind this idea is actually quite interesting. They had 2 language versions of the Passport contents for the international version: English and Japanese. However, they simply did not have enough room (any perhaps budget) to print both languages in the booklet. Considering how common it is nowadays for Japanese mobile phones to have built-in mobile barcode readers, they decided to encode all the Japanese content into QR Codes.

The finished product contains 2 QR Codes for each tourist attraction, one contains the entire text description in Japanese and the other containing the contact/address information of the place. Since complete paragraphs were encoded into QR Codes, the barcodes are extremely dense. And because of the limited printing space, the physical size of the barcodes had to be reduced as well.

The result is that only phones with cameras that support macro lens are able to read those barcodes. The good news for them is that unlike rest of the world, the majority of Japanese mobile phones actually do have great macro lens capability, so at least their target audience will be able to benefit from the QR Codes.

They printed 25,000 copies of the international version and the last I heard was that it ran out pretty fast and had plenty of requests for more copies. Maybe we will be seeing more of these barcodes from the Department of Culture Affairs next year?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

QR Code + Emoticons = ?

FarEasTone recently have been running an ad on the mini-newspaper Upaper to promote Nokia handsets as well as QR Code. Upaper claims on its frontpage that it averaged a daily distribution of 1,155,297 copies in July, so this ad should have gotten plenty of eyeballs. Upaper is distributed for free at various MRT stations in Taipei.

The QR Code in display contains the simple text: "hey~ you are a little strange" (translated from Chinese). It turns out that these QR Codes are supposed to be used like secret messages. They are even made into magnets (along with a board for display) and are gifts to customers of specific phones. So it might work like this: if you are too shy to say something in person, you can choose to stick QR magnet on your cubicle and your colleagues will have to have a barcode reader to figure out what you have in mind. They are also giving out special QR Codes that give exclusive access to ringtones & wallpapers of popular music artists, more detailed information can be found at FET's promotional webpage or you can click here to try scanning some of these codes (I was able to read the codes directly from the images using QuickMark on N73).

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bottle Of Tea

My colleague recently returned from Japan with a bottle of green tea, and on it was a peculiar looking sticker with a hidden QR Code underneath. So I try to find out what one can do with it.

The QR Code contains the URL: and can be accessed from either the mobile or the PC. However, they do not have a mobile version of their website if you access via your phone. From what I can understand, these special stickers are only placed on drink bottles sold from vending machines. There is a 14 digit code on the sticker for the user to collect points, which in turn can be used to redeem certain prizes once you've accumulated enough points. The user is also supposed to create a login ID before they can start entering the 14 digit code and collect points, but it isn't obvious on their site on how to do so.

I am not particularly impressed with the process (the prizes seem pretty nice though), but I think it is worth noting that Japanese companies are willing to print QR Codes even when the barcode has so little to do with anything else other than to direct mobile users to their site (they actually spell out the encoded URL on the sticker too, so the QR can be totally unnecessary). I am sure that a lot of companies outside of Japan will question the benefit of printing this kind of 2D barcodes for such little purpose, and this is one of the main reasons why the rest of the world is still lagging behind Japan in terms of mobile barcode adoption.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Spreading The Word On Mobile Barcodes

Popular Taiwanese blogger amarylliss recently blogged about her recent experience with QR Codes and has started to display QR Codes on her blog.

DigitalHome prints an introductory article on QR Codes in its July 2007 issue.

If you don't read Chinese, no worries. is a new blog that is committed to blogging about 2D barcodes as well -- in Spanish.

The point is, the majority of the general public still needs to be educated on 2D barcdoes, and I'm glad to see some effort going on. There are definitely a lot of mobile barcode enthusiasts out there and here are some blogs and/or articles to give one a head start on this subject, in no particular order:

Rex's blah blah blah (Chinese) - One of the most informative introductions to 2D barcodes and with great industry insight.

The Pondering Primate - Probably the blog that coined the term "physical world connection", always up to date on the latest developments on mobile barcodes.

QR Code Blog (Japanese) - Though discontinued, the blog's attempt at blogging with QR Codes is still quite interesting to see.

All About Mobile Life - Kaywa expert's blog always has something nice to share.

Bar code Insight (Chinese) - Observes the mobile barcode developments happening in Mainland China.

Tommi's S60 applications blog - Developer at Nokia shares views on mobile barcode applications. - Has an in depth review and comparison of various 2D barcode readers.

David Harper's Different Things - WinkSite founder introduces QR Codes.

BeeTagg Mobile Tagging Blog (Swiss) - BeeTagg's official blog.

streetstylz - NeoMedia's unofficial blog official blog, I think.

Make a Difference - Blog by NextCode's director of product management .

ShotCode Blog - ShotCode's official blog.

It's great to see that a lot of people are actively raising awareness on mobile barcodes. Again, there is a lot more information out there, and it's tough to list them all. Remember, search engines are our friends...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Data Matrix On Nokia Batteries

This week, Nokia issued a product advisory for their BL-5C batteries manufactured by Matsushita between 12/2005 ~ 11/2006. There have been rare occurrences of battery overheating and customers are allowed to exchange their batteries if they have any concerns.

Most of us have long noticed the Data Matrix barcodes printed on Nokia batteries or on the phones itself beside the IMEI, but this is the first time I see them close to being used to interact with the end customer. In this case, of course, the end user uses the Battery Identification Number (which is what is encoded as the Data Matrix) to determine if they have a good battery or not.

I guess in such scenarios, the phone wouldn't be able to scan the barcode on its own battery. So, it might be pretty convenient if one can use his/her webcam to perform this kind of task. Scanning barcodes can be achieved by using an application such as QuickMark for WebCam or HOOP, but making sure that it knows where to look up the information (Nokia's database) would require some sort of arrangement between the application and the database. Probably wishful thinking on my part, but it'd be cool though.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Scanning Barcodes On The Bus May Be Tough

Using the mobile device to look up bus schedules is an easy and useful concept to grasp, and so the Taipei City Government launched such a service earlier last month.

Although a QR Code is printed on the promotional poster, it is simply a link to, where the user gets to download a Java Midlet that is specially designed to keep track of the whereabouts of the buses in Taipei City. Swiss company BeeTagg also launched a similar service with PostBus Switzerland Ltd last month, except that their mobile tag links directly to the bus info.

This news is already a month old, but I finally ran into one of those posters last week and was eager to try scanning the 2D barcode posted on the bus window. It took less than a second before I realized how difficult the task can be. The bus was not exactly crowded, but I was standing and the bus was moving. On top of that, the poster is positioned on the lower half of the window, so I had to stick out my arm in front of the seated passenger's face to get to the barcode. It must have been a weird sight indeed.

For more detailed news and info: m-bus application screenshots, or if you want to check the Taipei bus schedule on the web: Taipei e-bus system.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Popularity Contest: QR Code VS Data Matrix

QR Code and Data Matrix are clearly the two most popular 2D barcode standards at this moment, but which of the two is more popular? Using "qr code" and "data matrix" as keyword entries on Google Trends reveals that Data Matrix has an advantage over QR in terms of search frequency, but the overall trend shows that QR is quickly gaining momentum.

Google Trends also breaks down the data into regions, and perhaps to a lot of people's surprise, Taiwan ranks way up there in terms of search frequency for the the term "qr code". Looking at Singapore's data (compare its graphical representation when sorted by QR & Data Matrix respectively) also reveals how great the Taiwanese interest is in QR Code. I believe this is the result of a group effort by the members of the Open Mobile Internet Alliance, which includes operators, device manufacturers, software providers, and content providers to promote the awareness of mobile barcodes.

From the end users' perspective, they are starting to see QR Codes pop-up around them, on magazines, newspapers, websites, and even produce. And more new handsets that support mobile barcode readers are also coming into market, for instance the majority of the devices by Asus, Eten, GigaByte, HTC/Dopod, and Nokia come preloaded with or supported by QuickMark's barcode reader. With the contents and tools both coming into place, this trend should continue.

Friday, August 10, 2007

QR Code Sighting @ Wikimania 2007

Wikimania 2007 was held here in Taipei last week and QR Codes were utilized in their marketing material.

Anyone who attended their events were able to receive a tourist map with QR Codes pointing to detailed info about certain tourist attractions in the nearby area.

A portion of the map was also printed on UPaper, a free mini-newspaper distributed at the various MRT stations in Taipei. The map was a collaboration between Wikipedia, udnDigital, and IconLab.

Unfortunately, the QR Codes did not implement the latest spec defined by OMI@, which would allow the barcode to contain the name, address, telephone number, website, as well as longitude & latitude coordinates for GPS navigation.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Mobile TV @ Mobile Monday Taipei

This month's topic at Mobile Monday Taipei is Mobile TV and David Tsai (project manager, GigaByte) and Francesca Lai (project director, Public Television Service Foundation) both made interesting presentations on the topic. Of course, David showed off the latest GigaByte T600 PDA phone which is able to receive both DVB-T and DVB-H broadcasts; while PTS showcased its live contents for the mobile TV. There were live also demos on phones from Nokia and Samsung, and some photos of the prototype phones being developed by Asus, Mitac, Motorola, and Compal were also presented. Both presenters mentioned that the local Taiwanese operators' interest in mobile TV are quite high, but there are still aways (3~5 years) to go before significant adoption will take place in the local market. In fact, the Taiwanese government has yet to grant license for DVB-H and there are currently 5 groups conducting field tests/trials in various parts of Taiwan.

David highlighted 2 main differences between DVB-T and DVB-H:
1) DVB-H is designed to have better battery efficiency, which is quite important since people wouldn't want to miss any important calls just because they watched a few minutes of mobile tv.
2) DVB-T is designed for home settings while DVB-H is tailored for mobility. This means that one has a better chance of getting DVB-H programming when traveling in a car or on a train. However, it still depends on how strong the signals are in certain areas. According to David, the T600 is able to receive DVB-T signals when driving at only 60 km/hr in Taipei versus 80 km/hr in Vienna, Austria.

There are currently 16 free channels on DVB-T today in Taiwan, and users can get free sneak previews of the contents on DVB-H as well since they are still on trial.