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Ah! Another format war. I love it!!! That is, when I pick the right format early on. In the late 70′s when I was a kid, I remember my Dad coming home with an amazing contraption known as the Video Tape Recorder. It was a Sony Betamax and I felt so superior to all my friends whose parents purchased a lower quality VHS. Well, that was short lived. Then came the Mac in 1984. Short of Apple’s recent amazing comeback, it would seem I was stuck with the wrong format again. Thank goodness I picked Blu-ray over… er, I can’t even remember what the other HD format was called.

Picking the right format is a big deal in business because you can invest a ton of time and money into something that, if your pick flops, leaves you holding the bag as they say. Clients have been posing a new question to us recently: which of the new bar code technologies should we pick? On one hand you have the QR Code. QR is short for “quick response.” On the other hand you have Microsoft’s Tag technology. Both enable people with smart phones to read these codes, which will then load additional information regarding a piece of real estate, golf swing, product, or whatever else is being advertised.


A little history…

While QR Codes and Tags are pretty cool and each do about the same thing as the other, it is not a new concept. Back around the year 2000 (fire up the way-back machine!) Wired magazine sent what was known as a :CueCat bar code scanner to every single subscriber. Subscribers could then attach the device to their computer via USB and scan special bar codes that appeared on advertisements, which would then load specialized web pages with more info. In fact, you can stillbuy a :CueCat at Amazon right now. I won’t go into the entire story but the thing was a miserable flop. It seemed rather cumbersome to me. So, what’s the difference now? Smart phones! So much easier. No wires and no special scanner to deal with. Nice.

QR Codes have been around since 1994 and were invented by DENSO to track auto parts. Some people think QR Codes are “open source” which really isn’t the case. While generating and using QR Codes is free, DENSO owns the patent but chooses not to enforce it. Also, DENSO owns the trademark on the term “QR Code.” For the entire skinny on the subject, visit DENSO’s QR Code website.

Microsoft’s Tag has been around since at least 2007 and is a proprietary technology. In other words, when you choose to use it, you wed your company to Microsoft in addition to the technology itself. Sound familiar? While creating and using Microsoft Tags is currently free, there is no guarantee they will continue to offer the service in the future. Below is a quote from the terms of use agreement.

We will use commercially reasonable efforts to (a) make the Basic Features available until at least January 1, 2015; (b) provide at least two years prior notice before we terminate the Basic Features or the entire Service; and (c) provide the Basic Features as part of the Service for as long as we operate the Service generally. In addition, we will never require a fee to use the Basic Features as part of the Service for as long as we operate the Service generally.

Who is using QR Codes?

  • National Association of Realtors
  • Ralph Lauren
  • Home Depot
  • Best Buy
  • HBO
  • Pepsi
  • Calvin Klein
  • Tissot
  • TomTom
  • Dunlop Sports
  • And many, many more

Who is using Microsoft Tag?

  • Ford Motor Company
  • Porsche
  • Dell Computers
  • Golf Magazine
  • Volvo
  • Acura
  • Callaway
  • Razor Scooters
  • Justin Bieber
  • Hearst Publishing including CosmopolitanRedbookMarie ClaireSeventeenOGood Housekeeping, and Harper’s Bazaar
  • And many, many more

The Verdict

While QR Codes don’t have any licensing restrictions, Microsoft’s Tag service has an easy-to-use tracking interface that is currently free. QR Codes seem to be more popular with real estate agents and retail while Tags are more popular with automotive and publishing. It seems to me that the technologies are neck-and-neck and neither seems to be on the wane. However, I’m not going to wimp out and say it’s a tie. I believe QR Codes will win the format war eventually because the lack of licensing restrictions lends itself to more innovation by developers and advertisers. Additionally, you’ll see QR Code scanners embedded as a default part of the operating systems on iPhones and Androids. Apple and Google certainly won’t support their arch enemy’s Tag format. So, unless everyone dumps the most popular phones on the planet and switches to Microsoft Phone 7, QR Codes are going to win.

Tell Bill Gates I said so.

This article was originally posted on the In10sity Blog and is used with permission.

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