Yesterday, Microsoft released a new piece of technology in beta: Microsoft Tag. When you start seeing strangely coloured boxes such as the following around the place: it is time to get the mobile client (yes, iPhone included)
2D barcodes are not new; and nor is there one single standard for all applications. As scanning (optical to digital interpretation) is never 100% guarranteed, there is inbuilt error correction and design elements that make certain 2D formats useful in different situations.
For instance, PDF417, a standard for 2D barcodes, is useful in manufacturing and logistics scenarios as widgets move by on conveyor belts.
The colour makes this tagging system different. Mobile devices have RGB cameras: why not use this to assist depth of data into another dimension.
Creating Your Own
To create your very own Microsoft Tag; create an account and log in to Microsoft Tag.
There are four types of tags: URLs (to web sites), vCards (contact cards: think business cards), Freetext and Dialer.
The beauty for marketing-types is that the use of a Microsoft Tag can be tracked online. If you are concerned with privacy, I suggest you read the FAQ. No personal data is sent to the service.
Do Microsoft Tags work from a Computer screen?
Yes. A test of a 156px by 156px JPEG (therefore, with colour shift and artefacts) was correctly captured by my Treo Pro Windows Mobile Phone 40cm away from the Dell 22” LCD screen.
As a part of the service, Microsoft Tag generates either a PDF, WMF or XPS file. These file formats permit placement in printing applications; or conversion from vector formats to bitmap: such as GIF, JPEG or PNG.
As I have a little history in the print-publishing world, I placed the RGB vector PDF into Adobe InDesign CS4 and conducted a quick test.
The separations preview provides a CMYK breakdown of the elements and a preview based on different print output profiles. I switched the onscreen colour to emulate a colour space that would appear in US Newsprint (ie: a smallish gamut), and tested an on-screen tag capture with my Windows Mobile Phone. (note: my LCD monitor is not 100% calibrated, but OK for a quick test!). The software recognised the tag, and worked correctly.
Outdoor Marketing Uses
Imagine Tags printed 1m x 1m high on a billboard. Anyone with a phone can quickly “go to” your marketing information in a measurable way. The users do not need to be square-on to the tag. Way useful.
Go and give it a try.