2D Barcode Wars – Microsoft Tag

You have probably seen that 2D barcoding has become really trendy in the consumer world, being used for all kinds of interactive mobile marketing.

When this got going, a year or so ago, there were two types of barcode that were being used – Datamatrix and QR Code. While Datamatrix continues to be hugely popular for industrial applications, QR Code seems to be the winner in the mobile marketing space. Indeed, just as Google became the noun for Internet search, QR Code is often taken to be the generic term for Interactive Mobile 2D Barcoding.

There is an alternative for QR Code however, the rather interesting Microsoft Tag.

What makes MS Tag special is the fact that it can be printed in multiple colours and can be put together in a creative way. The downside is that it is proprietary and there is limited reader support at the moment.

The codes can only be created on Microsft’s Tag site and every scan is recorded on Microsoft’s servers. Personally, I much prefer to be able to encode barcodes myself and not have a third party’s tracking tags involved.

There is little reader support for Microsoft Tag so far. I’m not aware of any POS or industrial readers beingvCard Microsoft Tagable to handle this, and there is only one iPhone reader app (the Microsoft one of course) compared to many reader apps for QR and Datamatrix codes.

The fact that the MS Tag code can be colorful and customized (see the MS Tag version of my vCard) means it can be an attractive option for print marketing. In our industry, our friends at ScanSource have been playing with MS Tag in their print ads and for conference badges.

So Microsoft have certainly been able to get some attention with this idea. Will it become mainstream and a threat to the QR Code? Remains to be seen, but Microsoft Tag does give more options to creative designers.

If you have a Microsoft Tag reader in your smartphone, see if you can read my custom tag. I can read it with my iPhone, but it takes longer to read than the standard Microsoft version. I think some fine tuning is needed.

Do you use 2D barcodes for non-industrial applications? If so, which codes do you use? Is Microsoft Tag a novelty or a serious option?

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Comments

  1. David:

    I can read your custom Tag using the Tag reader app on an Android phone. It did take a few seconds longer than normal.

    To your point about limited reader apps for Tags…that’s the point…by having a proprietary code there is no need for multiple reader apps, one does just fine. Compare that to an open source code like QR and everyone and anyone can attempt to make a better mouse trap (i.e., a QR Code reader app). With respect to an industrial use for Tag, don’t quote me, but I am most certain they were not created for an industrial environment, as QR was originally, but more for consumer use.

    Also, in regard to designer codes, Tag vs. QR, my last two blog posts may be of interest.

    Thank you.

    Roger Marquis
    President, 2D Barcode Strategy
    ————————————————–
    http://www.2dbarcodestrategy.com
    roger@2dbarcodestrategy.com
    646.596.3056

  2. Thanks for checking out the code and commenting Roger – it is much appreciated. I’ll get my custom code working better – just need the time to sit and do it.

    One area where I think it would be good for conventional barcode scanners to read the MS Tags is where they could be printed on coupons that need to be redeemed, it would be nice for the retailer to be able to read the codes. To be fair, I don’t think many POS systems can read any of the 2D barcodes.

    I checked out your blog – some interesting stuff there. I do really like the idea of being able to make the custom barcodes – especially with the MS Tags. Obviously, the custom QR codes are just making use of the error correction built into the code so creativity is limited.

    Great fun watching how this is all developing!

  3. Ryan Biggs says:

    How can it possibly be a bad thing if the entire developer community is invited to make better and better QR Code readers?

    Every camera phone in Japan ships with a QR Code reader baked in. Every Blackberry shipped in the US in the last year or so has a QR Code reader baked in. Over 200 million camera phones worldwide have QR Code readers *baked in* from the factory. Soon this will be the case with all new camera phones in the US. None of them will support Microsoft Tag right out of the box, except maybe Windows 7 phones (but leave it to MS to screw that up too).

    There are dozens of free iPhone Apps that support multiple code formats, which is a huge convenience to the end user. All of them support QR Codes; none of them support the proprietary Microsoft Tag. The Microsoft Tag app is a one trick pony. I keep two code scanning Apps on my iPhone: one for Microsoft Tag, and one for everything else.

    Please, explain to me again why Microsoft’s closed, proprietary format is better?

  4. Eric Wallin says:

    The other part of the Microsoft Tag that you are missing is that the Microsoft Tag Reader appends your device ID into the URL it redirects you to.  This way individual devices can be associated with the tags they have scanned for promotional and tracking purposes.

    If Microsoft allowed 3rd parties to scan these tags, they would have no guarantee that the unique identifier is being reported properly to their server, taking away the promotional value of the tag.

    For Tag to work, there can’t be 3rd party apps unless they are certified by Microsoft.  Do you really want Apple and Microsoft both certifying your app?

  5. Eric Wallin says:

    The other part of the Microsoft Tag that you are missing is that the Microsoft Tag Reader appends your device ID into the URL it redirects you to.  This way individual devices can be associated with the tags they have scanned for promotional and tracking purposes.

    If Microsoft allowed 3rd parties to scan these tags, they would have no guarantee that the unique identifier is being reported properly to their server, taking away the promotional value of the tag.

    For Tag to work, there can’t be 3rd party apps unless they are certified by Microsoft.  Do you really want Apple and Microsoft both certifying your app?

  6. Having an entire developer community around anything is great. However, the issue with the QR space is that not all readers can read all Tags. At last count there were over 500 QR readers (several of which with proprietary generators) that can confuse a consumer that doesn’t realize they may need to download another app to be able to scan the code.

    Nick Martin
    Online Community Manager
    Microsoft Tag

  7. Hi Eric,

    You have hit on one thing with MS Tag that is a concern to me.

    I absolutely do not want MS (or anyone else for that matter) storing data about my location and what device I might happen to be using.

    I certainly don’t want that data being used for targeted promotions. To be fair, I’d be very happy to pay for a version of AdBlock for my mobile device to stop me from having to see any promotional material at all. Obviously with Google and Apple being the big mobile OS developers, that isn’t happening any time soon =)

  8. Nick, thanks for stopping by.

    I agree with you that standards for printing codes and for the reader apps is a big issue with the QR community.

    We are a barcode company and I’ve spent many happy hours verifying Datamax barcodes against the Department of Defense standards =)

    I supposed that is a reason why it wouldn’t be a good idea to use QR codes for critical applications, unless in a controlled environment.

    Going to be really interesting to see how the various barcode formats develop and the applications they are used for.

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