Microsoft Tag



At the suggestion of a coworker, I finally took the time this morning to really check out the Microsoft Tag mobile application. Prior to today, I knew it had something to do with barcodes and colored triangles, but really couldn’t have told you much else. What I can tell you now is that it’s an innovative and slick app that has the promise to change how we interact with information. Quoting from the website, “Microsoft Tag instantly connects you to more information and entertainment – without typing long URLs or texting shortcodes.” What does that mean you ask? Well, it means that with Microsoft Tag and a cellular phone pretty much any piece of media from a billboard to a video can become an interactive object. As someone interested in mobile technology who works in content publishing, I find that quite interesting. Let’s start by just looking at the product website.


Shown below is the Microsoft Tag website. The first thing I noticed is that it has some nice Silverlight transitions through sample Tag scenarios, such as a Tag in a movie poster that can be used to launch a movie trailer on your phone. I say phone, because this application works on an array of smartphones and feature phones. The next thing I noticed was the little Try It section in the corner of the site. If you click there you’ll be informed you can either navigate on your phone to http://gettag.mobi for the application or enter your phone number to receive a text message with a link.


 TagWebsite


Once you have the mobile application, you can launch it from your programs list. Just to define some context, everything I’m showing is from my Blackjack II and images were captured using the MyMobiler application.


ProgramScreenLaunchScreen


After the application loads, you’re presented with some icons and a red square overlaid on the image coming from your camera. What you see below is an image of the application when my phone’s camera is pointed at the Microsoft Tag website on my computer monitor. As I center the red box over the picture of a device with a tag in the lower left hand corner of the website, the tag is automatically read and performs an action.


TagAppScreen1TagAppScreen2 


Microsoft Tags can be used for a number of purposes from linking to online content to easily giving someone your contact information for storage on your phone. In the case of the Tag on the Microsoft Tag website, it points to the Microsoft Tag mobile website. As soon as the application reads the tag, your mobile browser is launched and you’re directed to the mobile website without ever having to type in a link. If you’re security conscious, you can also tweak the application’s settings to ask you for permission before launching the browser.


TagRedirectScreenMobileTagSiteScreen


At this point, combined with reading other interesting blogs posts like the one by Michael Gannotti, I was pretty much sold and interested enough to wonder how I could generate some tags of my own. It turns out making tags is simple and, at the moment anyway, free. All you have to do is click the “Make a Tag” button on the Microsoft Tag webpage and you can use your Live ID to log in to a Tag management page.


TagCreation 


After creating your custom tag, you can share it out to anyone. Below is one that I created to point to the Windows Mobile Team Blog.


WMTeamBlogTag 


A final feature I haven’t seen mentioned much is that once you’ve created your tag, you can access analytics online concerning it’s use. Below is an image of the usage graph for the Tag I created earlier. Since I’m the only one that has used it so far, it only shows two hits, but I hope you can see how it could be useful.


TagGraph 


We’ll see how well this idea catches on, but I certainly found it to be a really cool mobile application. I’ve only covered the basics of this app, so please take the time to check it out for yourself. For more information about Microsoft Tag, you can also visit their team blog at http://blogs.msdn.com/tag/.

Comments (20)

  1. Klas says:

    is it possible to use the the technology in my own application?

  2. AvWuff says:

    Is there any particular reason why Microsoft "invented" a technology that already exists? QR-Codes do the same thing, except without requiring a Live or Passport account, and are extremely popular in Japan. They are also free.

  3. @AcWuff

    While QR-codes and other forms of barcodes can be used to encode information Microsoft’s High Capacity Color Barcodes has a few advantages that the other barcode systems do not.  The HCCB are easily decoded even when image quality is poor and they can be applied to a much wider range of media including videos and billboards.  For QR-Codes and other bar codes you typically have to have a much sharper image of the code to deploy it.

    More importantly Microsoft has made the reader for these barcodes available to a wide variety of devices.  I’ve already tried using it on a blackberry and an iPhone in addition to a few Windows Mobile Standard and Windows Mobile professional devices.  

    Instead of encoding the actual information of interest the HCCB is used to encode a reference or an ID to the information.  The actual information is stored elsewhere.  Since the information referenced is theoretically unlimited in size there’s no limit to the information that can be attached to a HCCB.

    Microsoft Tag isn’t just a barcode format.  It is an entire solution.  It provides the barcode encoding, a tool for generating the barcode, the software that users can use to decode the barcodes, and a service to associate the barcodes with their intended information.

    you can find more information on the HCCB and it’s merits at the Microsoft Research site straight from its creator, Galvin Jancke.

    http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/projects/hccb/default.aspx

  4. Matthias says:

    Is there any library with decoding capabilities or are there plans to provide one to bring the technology to existing applications and increase the user’s experience not to have 5 different barcode applications on his phone?

  5. Kevin says:

    Is this available for iPhone? Looks neat, but I really want to avoid Windows Mobile.

  6. @Kevin:

    Yes, It is available for iPhone, Windows Mobile Devices, Blackberries, Palm OS, and Nokia devices.  Look is in the iPhone App store.

  7. Sebastian says:

    Well, the "not actually having the information encoded in itself but rather pointing to a place where the information actually is" is not very innovative either.

    The colour, well, it makes it easier to be decoded using low-quality cameras but since today’s phones feature all those megapixels (and recently working auto focus) that’s not really important.

    Moreover it is suited for such "fun" enduser applications only as as in other areas we need to use monochromatic printing to label products or parts or whatever.

    Last, not least we are supplying one company with all the information and statistics, which, no matter how much I like MS, is not really a good idea, is it?

    After all a nice idea but way too late to actually compete with qr or aztec, even in the end user market segment.

  8. @Sebastian

    Despite the higher megapixel ratings available in today’s phones you’ll find that the higher rating doesn’t gaurantee high image quality.  Most phones that I have reviewed will not produce images at the maximum resolution when they are feeding a live visual data to a program.  One such example is the HTC TyTn II which is also known by several other names (AT&T Tilt, T-Mobile MDA Vario III, and many others).  Its camera is rated at 3 MP, but it will only feed live visual data to a program at 353×288 pixels max (that is 0.10 megapixels).     There are some phones that capture data at resolutions that are lower than that.   Keep in mind that depending on the environment and the location of the Tag (ex: on a sign or billboard) a user may not be able to position their phone so that the Tag occupies most of the viewable area making the actual quality of the Tag as available to the reader software even lower.

  9. SI says:

    Ditto Sebastian’s comments:

    QR’s already out, can and is used on billboards and videos and soft drinks cans (and streaming media and really anything where the image will be semi-still for a tiny amount of time).

    The reader software is free, and it supports loads of handsets (i-nigma.com). The entire solution is also already available for QR from various free or paid-for sources, as well as also being stored elsewhere – i.e. basically being a clever way of making a URL a boxy picture. If MobileTag was doing something extra, e.g. could fire up demos of games or software or whatever just by clicking (which is inherently opt-in unless you’re walking around like an idiot, pointing your cameraphone at stuff), I guess it’d be slightly interesting, but it’s not. Also, that would open a can of viruses.

    Nonetheless, I imagine it’ll catch on, because

    1. QRs still not got big in the west, so there’s room, and

    2. Microsoft can squash QR & Semacode and whoever else with its marketing machine. Bwaah-ha-haaaaa.

  10. Eric says:

    What I don’t like about Tag is that it is positioned as a tool for publishers. Microsoft should keep it free for personal use.

  11. Hussein EROL says:

    Super fast recognize barcode reader.

  12. William says:

    It is entirely possible to do the same degree of tracking using QR Codes – simply use a URL that points to your own site, from where the visitor will be auto-redirected to the destination.

    It is entirely possible to automate QR Code creation for free.

    MS Tag does scan better and I believe is an improvement over QR Codes (although not in a manufacturing environment where the need to print tags in colour will be prohibitively expensive, as well as impractical). As a result of QR Codes’ cost benefits, I cannot see how MS can overrun the market completely.

    Additionally, I believe it is stupid of Microsoft NOT to have developer API’s ready for MS Tag from the outset. Generating tags manually off the Tag site is NOT an option for anybody other than the occasional user.

    With this in mind, Microsoft should rather quickly clear up it’s stance on costs. Will they charge or won’t they? If it will remain free (and there’s NO reason why it shouldn’t!) then more publishers will take it on.

    If they’re going to charge, well, farewell MS Tag, hello QR Code.

  13. Josh, MCSD says:

    This will not replace RFID in material tracking (and does not look like it is supposed to).  Who tracks inventory on a mobile phone?  This is for marketing and public display, and in that arena, I think this is great!  On my PPC6700 (1.3 MP) I can scan these flawlessly.  

    I agree that Microsoft should decide on their long term pricing now.  And, they should get an API and bulk creation tool ready ASAP.  Developers are going to want more "under the hood" information and be able to develop their own applications for this.

    Why does everyone think that one technology has to work for everything?  For free?  If Microsoft chooses to charge to host the server, then I hope they make a fortune.

  14. Interesting Concept says:

    I do like the fact that the tag is a consistent size and can be read on virtually any phone with a camera.  Those are great features.  

    However, the biggest downfall will be the reliance on MS servers to store that actual information.  Currently, the tag only codes a reference to the information.  In the event of server problems, data loss, or anything else at Microsoft your tags are rendered useless until the problem is resolved.

    On the other hand, QR codes, while not quite as pretty or easy to read, do not rely on any server to access the information.  If used to direct web traffic to your site, the URL of your site is actually coded in the QR code.  

    That independence is huge when it comes to something like this.  

    However, on the other hand.  Since the tag only provides a link to the address of the information, changes can be made on the back end and the tag itself does not have to be regenerated.  A nice feature especially when linking to web content which can change frequently.

    Either way, I see advantages to using the already established QR code but can also recognize the MS Tag addresses some shortfalls in that system.  For now, I think I will keep both QR and MS Tag on my Blackberry just in case I run into one in the wild. 🙂

  15. Johnny B says:

    Interesting technology, but it seems to be limited to the Redmond Ivory Tower Campus school of thought.  The "complete system" assumes the user wants Microsoft to be the direct conduit to information, providing some minimal analytics basic data, and providing MS with all of the usage data.  And of course, the caveat to charge for it once they see it is a going concern, rather than an open approach to increase adoption.  One flaw I have observed in some quick "garage band" testing: There appears to be no code redundancy like that found in QR Codes.  The device must capture the complete image, unobstructed, for the Microsoft Tag to be decoded properly.  This limitation negates industrial or commercial usage completely.  I suppose this could be addressed by adding encryption as described in the technical page, but then you have to produce a much larger code = not so high density as proclaimed.  This concept also assumes everything encoded in color; also not realistic for industrial usage.

    Nice idea, use cases and business case needs some work.

  16. Jimmy says:

    I really don’t see any point in this, except in trying to make money out of something that is already available for free, then crippling it’s possibilities.

    The biggest difference between QR codes and Microsoft Tag: You don’t need an internetconnection to read them. Url’s, plain text, visit cards (with "add to addressbook support", best feature ever): They are all directly visible on your screen.

    Even for marketing purpose: It’s just as easy to track your hits with QR codes as it would be with microsoft tag. Just add the proper POST variables to your encoded url and you are done.

    Apart from what you claim: QR reading software is available for practically any mobile device with a camera attached to it. Java, android, iphone, windows mobile, you name it.

    I’ve been scanning a lot of QR codes while I was in Japan (I admit, mostly for the novelty of it), and I would be kind of disappointed to see a different kind of tag being introduced in the western world that is actually more awkward to use (scan, then connect to the internet to see what you actually scanned).

    Readibility of the tags also seems like a weird argument. With my phone I just need to do a quick swipe over QR tags and it gets recognised immediatly (except for the complex ones that contain lots of text, I need to hold it still for a few secs there). I don’t see how microsoft can add any value there. OK, so it can be read in bad conditions, but QR codes are already painless enough to scan and it certainly doesn’t counter for the disadvantages of microsoft tag.

  17. Robert W says:

    Something people are leaving out, is that it’s not just about URLs.  You can also put your contact information in to a Microsoft Tag.  This means I can put the tag on my business card, enabling peers and clients to quickly transfer my contact info into their phones.

    I’m not as familiar with QR codes.  Can one put their complete contact information (name, address, email, phone, url, organization) into a QR code?  

  18. Robert W says:

    BTW – another thing that comes to mind after posting my comment is that it’s not just for people.  Looking forward beyond just business cards, one could obviously program a robot to use these tags to retrieve information about objects in its environment.  

  19. J-Way says:

    Interesting technology, but what about the millions of people out there without access to a smartphone (yes, a few people don’t even have an iphone… shocking).  Is there any other way to decode a Microsoft tag?  I can take a picture of a tag with my phone and email it… anyway to get the resulting jpg decoded?

  20. MSDN Archive says:

    The Windows Mobile blog has moved. Comments on this blog will be disabled soon. Let’s continue these discussions on the new site.

    http://windowsteamblog.com/blogs/windowsphone/default.aspx

    http://developer.windowsmobile.com

    Thanks!