QR Codes plus Microsoft equals… "Microsoft Tags"

By this point, we’ve all heard about QR Codes, right? Easypurl.com Insider has recently blogged about them twice, once to explain how this interesting new technology works, and another time to report on the dramatic increase in their use here in the US.

To briefly summarize, a QR Code is essentially a matrix barcode (or 2-dimensional code), that can be read by a special QR Barcode reader (there are many different readers available)  installed on a smartphone with a digital camera. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be text, a General URL, a PURL or other data. That all makes sense, right?

Well, there’s a new type of QR Code in town that you should definitely be aware of.  Turns out that Microsoft has developed their own QR code technology and reader, called “Microsoft Tag”. While not used as widely as a standard QR Code, these new barcodes are starting to appear and are worth discussing.

Currently in beta, Microsoft Tags are a variation of the QR Code that uses four colors arranged in a 5 x 10 grid. The barcode also works in black-and-white.  Unlike a QR Code which can represent pretty much anything, a Microsoft Tag always represents a Web link. Scanning the Microsoft Tag sends the user to a Microsoft Web server, which then redirects them to the intended URL.

Though it essentially does what a normal black-and-white QR code does (links print to the web), a Microsoft Tag can be printed slightly smaller than a QR Code and can be customized to either be in color, b/w, or look like any image you want, like this one of P. Diddy (Sean Combs) on the right. Microsoft Tags also have the ability to be edited once created, and can be set to expire.

Microsoft Tags can only be scanned, however, with Microsoft’s proprietary reader. This means that not only will your standard QR Code scanning software not work if you come across one, but you will need to download yet another reader, which you may or may not want to do. This definitely creates a barrier to adoption, as many consumers, new to QR Codes themselves, will be unfamiliar with this new flavor of the technology.

Though perhaps not as visually pleasing, the QR code still has additional benefits over the Microsoft Tag. First, Tags can usually only be scanned when printed on a flat surface; QR codes can be scanned at an angle or rounded surface. Second, QR codes can encode more characters, and accept any URL on the web (Microsoft does not allow Tags to read blacklisted websites). Third, QRs don’t need an internet connection to work, whereas the Tag needs the Internet to talk to Microsoft’s servers to access the content.

QR codes have also been around for years — people know what they are and know to scan them. Another downside worth mentioning is that while Microsoft Tags are currently free in beta, there is no guarantee that Microsoft will not begin charging handsomely to use these barcodes once (if) adoption takes off. After all, unlike QR Codes which are widely available from many sources, these barcodes rely solely on Microsoft’s proprietary infrastructure and technology to function.

Will these two technologies end up going head-to-head or work side-by-side? Only time will tell. What we know now is that mobile marketing is on the rise and is constantly re-inventing itself to spark even more consumer interest. Have you used a Microsoft Tag in a campaign? Let us know of your experience in the comments!

Easypurl.com Insider

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