Thursday, September 27, 2007

Decoding Pet Shop Boys Music Video

English music artists the Pet Shop Boys recently released a new album called Disco 4, and in it is a song titled Integral. What is special about it is that the Integral music video is literally littered with QR Codes. Watching the video for the first time today, I was surprised by the number of QR Codes blinking and flashing throughout the music video. I am sure that some people will pull their hair out trying to scan for those 2D barcodes and never get any results. Well, I ran the video 4 times and found 74 unique QR Codes in it. They are all web links to websites that relate to the main theme of the song, which according to their official site, is freedom and civil liberty. There might be more than the 74 codes that I found, but I'll leave those to the hardcore fans. There are also a couple of URLs that link to missing pages, and I wonder if the video I watched was its final version (their official site mentions that an unfinished version was released a week prior to its official launch).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Singapore's Mobile Barcode Initiative

EzCode is the codename for the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore's mobile barcode initiative, which is basically a government sponsored program with the goal to promote the use of 2D barcodes in Singapore. An IDA representative visited Taiwan's Open Mobile Internet Alliance and its members a few months ago to learn about Taiwan's experience in mobile barcodes and it seems that they are making some progress.

IDA is currently offering a rebranded mobile barcode reader by Tagit and supports both QR Code and Data Matrix. However, it is obvious that their reader is still in its early stages and has a long ways to go after spending a few minutes playing with it. The EzCode reader simply does not do a good enough job recognizing barcodes (the module size needs to be quite large, as evidenced by their free online barcode generator).

But the thing that I find most unfortunate, from an end user's point of view, is that IDA decided to make up its own rules for encoding the contents of 2D barcodes. There are currently 5 types of barcode actions or "tags" defined by IDA: URL Link Tag, SMS Tag, CALL Tag, TEXT Tag, and VCARD Tag. Only the URL Link Tag is compatible with other mobile barcode readers (because it is defined simply as http://someurl), the rest of them will be viewed as plain text (SMS Tag is recognized by QuickMark, however). The weirdest tag is their VCARD Tag, which despite its name, does not conform to the RFC vCard standard at all.

EzCode's VCARD looks like this:

While a real vCard should look something like this:

I find this strange because it seems that IDA has done a lot of homework beforehand and they should have been aware of the pros and cons involved in content format standardization. I think it might be better for the end user if they chose to adhere to an existing standard, either DoCoMo, OMI@, Orange, etc. That way tourists won't have to install an additional application when visiting Singapore to take advantage of their 2D barcodes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Link To Weather Info Via QR Code

Typhoon number 12: Wipha is affecting the northern part of Taiwan today. If you are interested in the latest mobile weather updates from Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau, you can either access the QR Code on their website for the WAP version or visit for the PDA version (I think they should have made a QR Code for the PDA link as well).

Saturday, September 15, 2007

QR Code On Wheels

Advertising is nothing new for the buses here in Taiwan. Buses are pretty much covered with ads, inside and outside. But my friend Joyce spotted an unfamiliar scene this week on her way to work: a QR Code printed on a bus.

The QR Code doesn't carry much info, simply a telephone number: 0800805680, which is the service hot line for 5680 (a company that provides computer maintenance/repair services). Although Taipei's traffic isn't that great and there are plenty of bus stops and traffic lights, I still wonder if it's easy enough for people to scan a 2D barcode on wheels. I actually think it might be simpler if they just print 080-080-5680 on the bus because the numbers are catchy enough to be memorized easily, but at least this will help people get used to having these mobile barcodes randomly show up in our daily lives.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Truth About Food Traceability

Kuang Chuan (dairy products company) recently had a new product on the market, the Blue Label milk. And this particular product claims to be the first milk product to implement a traceability system. A 5 digit alphanumeric code is printed on each bottle underneath its expiration date, and the consumer is able to look up its production history details by entering the code on the company's traceability webpage.

My initial reaction to the Blue Label's traceability feature was how is the customer able to look up the relevant information before their purchase? I then consulted my friend Joseph, who currently works at Kuang Chuan and happens to be familiar with the Blue Label product, and he told me that it is true that their system only allows the customer to look up the data after the purchase. This obviously doesn't make much sense so I asked if they considered using 2D barcodes, and it lead to an interesting discussion about the vendor's point-of-view in regards to food traceability. And the key points / highlights are:

1) Vendors have no interest at all in food traceability because it only adds cost and not revenue
2) Vendors are being forced by the government to implement food traceability systems
3) Consumers do not care about the food production process because what they really want is for all the products to be safe and have someone accountable when something wrong happens (meaning bad products should have never reached the shelves in the first place)

I do agree with Joseph's opinions, but I wanted to try out their traceability system anyway. So I bought a Blue Label and entered its trace code on their website, and indeed I was presented with a lot of information and test data about my bottle of milk. However, I felt it is a little too much data for the average customer to understand and I did not find them particular helpful either.

Kuang Chuan did come up with a way to encourage consumers to try out their traceability system though, they had a mini game on their site in which you can enter your receipt number (the one with your purchase of the Blue Label milk) to see if you won a HTC Touch. Unfortunately, I did not win.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Liberty Times Introduces QR Codes

Taiwan's Liberty Times newspaper had one and a half page of QR Code introduction in its extras section yesterday. The article provided a brief intro to what QR Codes are, how to download and user QR mobile barcode readers, as well as plenty of examples of QR Codes in action. The pictured list of examples include QR Codes found on online games' boxes, airline posters, food packaging (for food traceability), hamburgers (for nutrition facts), t-shirts, and Taipei's Cultural Passport. It also mentions QuickMark's more advanced applications for QR Codes, such as GPS navigation and m-wallet (vending machines). The second page continues to list a few phones that support mobile barcode reading capabilities, as well as a more extended list of phones that are able to add the QR Code reading feature via online downloads (basically a copy of QuickMark's list of supported phones).

The only news to me was the QR Code used in by the online game Fanta Tennis Online. A quick search revealed that it was a marketing collaboration between Gameflier and FarEastone, and their press release said that the barcodes can be found within the game, on the game's instruction manual, and on its official website. Since I've not played this game, I'm not completely sure what purpose it serves. I did try looking for the QR on its packaging as shown on the newspaper, but did not see any on the ones I found at the store.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Send Feedback With QR Codes

I was cleaning my room this past weekend and found that the box of my Japanese anime toy had a QR Code on it as well. Since I wasn't completely sure about what the Japanese instructions meant, my friend Toyoki helped me out by actually scanning the barcode and following through with its actions.

Basically, Bandai (the toy company) is soliciting feedback from its customers. The end user scans the QR Code to initiate a blank email to be sent to, and Bandai will email back to the user a list of URLs. The user then selects the URL of the product he/she wishes to provide feedback on, and they can start filling out a questionnaire after they access their chosen link. The company also offers to draw 100 lucky users each month and grant them a prize of a QUO Card preloaded with 1000 yen. The QUO Card seems pretty cool too, it is a prepaid card which can be used at over 36,000 participating stores. Including convenience stores, restaurants, gas stations, drug stores, and more. Or if you are interested in Bandai products, you can access their new site at

I don't plan to do this all the time, but just for fun I'm going to try scanning this QR with the mobile barcode readers I have handy. The QR Code was obviously created for the Japanese mobile phone users, so it might be interesting to see how well these decoders fare.

QuickMark: Since I'm not using a Japanese phone, it is expected that not all of the characters will be rendered correctly (because the phone does not have all the corresponding character sets), but this particular phone still supports enough legible characters for me to get the gist of the message. QuickMark recognizes the QR as text but email and other functions can still be achieved by accessing the Open Notes function.

Kaywa: Being a QR intended for the Japanese audience usually means that the module size is quite small, and it is also the case here. The N73 that I'm using has auto-focus so it really shouldn't be a problem, but for some reason Kaywa wasn't able to focus on this particular barcode. I tried several times, but perhaps it just isn't my day. Although I wasn't able to get Kaywa to work this particular instance, I'm guessing that Kaywa functions the same as i-nigma.

i-nigma: The email was parsed correctly and functional, but unfortunately none of the Japanese characters came out correct.

ScanLife: ScanLife mistook the Japanese QR as a Mainland China QR (CMCC = China Mobile Communications Corporation) and closed itself after 2 warning beeps. Oh well, at least it proves that ScanBuy is indeed targeting the Chinese market.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

QR Code Billboard In Taipei

Pictures of QR Codes being displayed on big billboards are easy to stumble upon when one tries to research the subject, but they usually take place in Japan. Thanks to my colleague Yuki, the word is that a QR Code billboard has been spotted in Taipei.

The QR Code contains a URL and it looks like the purpose of this advertisement is to sell more advertisement, which will be placed on the packaging of free tissue papers given out in parking lots. The format of the QR Code content doesn't adhere to the standards suggested by Taiwan's Open Mobile Internet Alliance though. If you like to see the actual billboard in person, scan the QuickMark barcode for location information on how to get there.

Since the person who made this QR Code probably wasn't aware of the content format issues regarding barcode generation, I thought I'd do a simple test to see how some of the popular mobile barcode readers perform under this kind of situation.

QuickMark recognized the QR as simple text, but allows one to pull up Notes and access the URL link, add to bookmarks, add to contacts, or perform other functions from there.

Kaywa is the other reader that allows the user to browse the URL as the author of the barcode had intended. Both i-nigma and ScanLife were only able to decode the QR as regular text strings and provide no further functionality. So it looks like although Kaywa and i-nigma both use 3GVision's engine, they each have their own parser and handle the decoded data differently.