March 31, 2010, 12:00 AM

Getfugu and AT&T get serious about mobile bar code scanning

It’s been a big month for mobile bar code scanning. AT&T said last week it will test bar code scanning on its phones. And this week vendor Getfugu announced a deal with HyTech Professionals to develop mobile bar code scanning technology.

It’s been a big month for mobile bar code scanning. AT&T; said last week it will test bar code scanning on its phones. And this week mobile technology vendor Getfugu announced a deal with HyTech Professionals to develop mobile bar code scanning technology.

 

Here’s how Getfugu’s technology will work: A shopper uses her mobile phone to take a picture of a bar code on an item in a store and then can retrieve product information, pricing and other information, such as nutrition details. Consumers will also be able to redeem coupons and discounts and make a purchase, Getfugu says.

“It ultimately will provide an alternative route for easy checkout using a mobile phone,” says Rich Jenkins, co-founder and business development head for Getfugu.

 

Getfugu says the program initially will work with Apple’s iPhone, with the Android, Blackberry and Java ME mobile phone platforms soon to follow. Java ME is Sun Microsystems’ compact version of Java for devices such as mobile phones. Consumers at first will be able to get the application for free through Apple’s App store or on a participating retailer’s web site. Getfugu says it will most likely make money from the technology by charging product suppliers to advertise within the application. It says it is working on deals with several retailers to use the service, but would not provide the names.

Getfugu isn’t the first vendor to dip its toes in the mobile scanning and purchasing arena. Last year, Microsoft Corp. introduced Microsoft Tag, a color-coded product identification tag that allows shoppers to take and submit a picture of the tag using a web-enabled camera phone and then either access more details about an item or make an online purchase at a participating retailer’s e-commerce site. Companies including consumer packaged goods manufacturer General Mills and consumer electronics retailer Best Buy have tried the technology. And, vendor Escalate Retail recently announced a mobile service using the Microsoft Tag technology. Other vendors, including 2-D bar code manufacturer Avery Dennison Corp. and 2-D bar code and mobile technology vendor Scanbuy Inc., have announced their own camera phone e-retailing systems.

Getfugu forecasts its service will soon be available for 97% of mobile phones or more than 3.3 billion handsets worldwide.

That number may soon include AT&T; handsets. AT&T; announced last week it will test bar code scanning on its mobile phones. The tests will include both with conventional one-dimensional bar codes also known as UPC or universal product codes, as well as two-dimensional bar codes that carry more data.

 

“We see a tremendous opportunity for the widespread adoption of 2-D bar code technology for consumers and businesses alike,” an AT&T; spokeswoman says. “AT&T;’s vision is to get to a place of interoperability between and among bar code scanning technologies to enable seamless interactive marketing.”

 

AT&T; has chosen 12 large companies including consumer packaged goods, retail, hospitality and financial services businesses to participate in the program. The bar code scanning technology will be tested with outdoor signs, packaging, catalogues, television, the Internet and traditional print and mail advertising. AT&T; is using technology from Mobile Tag Inc. for the test.

AT&T; says it will soon make available to consumers via download a mobile application to read the 2-D bar codes on mobile devices that use the Android, BlackBerry and Windows-based mobile platforms.

“We’re excited to work with some of our key business clients to develop this new solution for consumer engagement, which is one of the most innovative solutions to come out of the mobile application space,” says Joe Lueckenhoff, senior vice president, product management, wireline and mobility services, AT&T; Business Solutions. “Our vision is to provide our business customers with the ability to reach their target customer in an interactive and direct manner, while preserving consumer choice and control over their mobile experience.”

The program also aims to test the appeal of mobile bar code scanning for consumers and marketers.

 

Bar code scanning with mobile phones has the potential to be an important new marketing arena, experts say.

“The last decade has seen a dramatic shift in the way consumers use their mobile phones to interact with the world around them,” says Michael Liard, practice director, RFID and Bar Code at research and consulting firm ABI Research. “We have witnessed mobile marketing campaigns evolve from basic SMS campaigns to content-rich 2-D bar code-enabled mobile applications such as mobile couponing and information delivery. Mobile bar codes can extend the marketing reach of any retailer or enterprise, serving as a permission-based way for consumers to engage directly with a company or brand.”

Julie Ask, vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research Inc., says a company like AT&T; testing out mobile bar code scanning could be a major step toward adoption.

 

Thus far, the technology has suffered from fragmentation, the need for consumers to download applications and such rare use that consumers are unaware of it, Ask says. Lack of scale and lack of technology standards also create hurdles, she adds.

 

“AT&T; preloading the application minimizes the impact of at least one inhibitor-getting consumers to download an application to their cell phone that works,” Ask says.

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