February 26, 2010, 12:00 AM

Scanbuy app enables shoppers to scan bar codes and retrieve data

The mobile bar code marketing technology provider is leveraging the auto-focus feature of cameras on select smartphones to enable the reading of conventional, one-dimensional bar codes.

Zak Stambor

Managing Editor

Typical smartphone cameras are too dumb to read conventional, one-dimensional bar codes-they just can’t quite take a sharp enough image for a bar code information system to decipher. Smartphones at the head of their class, though, have auto-focus features that enable much crisper images-and consequently the ability to read bar codes.

Scanbuy Inc., a mobile marketing technology provider, is leveraging the auto-focus feature on select Android, BlackBerry and iPhone smartphones to break down the barrier between mobile bar code scanning and conventional bar codes, enabling users of these devices to use its ScanLife mobile app to snap pictures of the codes and, in return, instantly receive product and pricing information.

M-commerce studies across the board show that the most common task conducted by mobile shoppers today is comparison shopping. Enabling consumers to read 1-D bar codes, the most common codes in the U.S. by far, will make mobile comparison shopping a snap, says Scanbuy CEO Jonathan Bulkeley. Scanbuy has for some time enabled consumers to read less common two-dimensional bar codes, which provide data both horizontally and vertically; but most checkout counter scanners don’t read 2-D bar codes, and thus they are not generally used on consumer goods.

“Doing comparison shopping through a mobile browser, typing everything in and scrolling through the results, is not the best user experience,” Bulkeley says. “The Scanbuy ScanLife mobile app gets you from the UPC, EAN or ISBN code to the product information in one click without having to futz around on the browser.”

The three major 1-D bar codes are Universal Product Code (UPC), International (formerly European) Article Number (EAN) and International Standard Book Number (ISBN). They are the series of lines and numbers printed on billions of products. 2-D bar codes are squares filled with tiny squares; these are not widely used in the United States, though they are ubiquitous elsewhere, for example, in Japan.

Once a picture is taken of a bar code through Scanbuy’s ScanLife mobile app, the app interprets the bar code, translates it into a series of numbers and transmits the numeric string to Scanbuy. From there, Scanbuy servers query the databases of a number of retail organizations with which it has partnered, including Amazon.com Inc. and Shopping.com, gathering product and price information and returning it to a screen in the app. All of this takes seconds.

ScanLife has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times through the major app stores, Scanbuy says, and Sprint has begun preloading the app on all its smartphones. ScanLife also is gaining recognition from its use in Sprint and Verizon marketing and advertising campaigns.

“Our ScanLife app now allows someone to scan virtually any bar code they see to instantly get more information,” Bulkeley says, “creating an all-in-one bar code reader which is ideal for users.”

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