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Join the dots: camera phones to decode new ad widget
(Print: September 5, 2007, p20)
Next week's DVD release of the zombie-flick 28 Weeks Later will bring a revolutionary marketing widget, widely used in Japan, to the UK for the first time.
The film poster contains a square box full of black and white dots known as a QR - quick response - code. It contains information that can be decoded by the camera on a mobile phone with the right software installed. A huge poster showing nothing but a QR code has already gone up in London's Shoreditch to advertise the DVD.
These "bar codes" are widely used in Japan to store everything from web addresses and phone numbers to product details. Rather than laboriously typing in a person's phone number or an internet address into a phone, these codes give one-touch access to a wealth of information that can then be stored on a phone.
Japan's immigration service even stamps passports with codes detailing passenger's names and visa status. The 28 Weeks Later codes include details of the DVD's release and links to other material on the internet.
While many top-of-the-range phones such as the Nokia N93 already contain readers, anyone with a camera phone can install software that reads QR codes from companies such as i-nigma and Kaywa. They can even create their own codes.
For the mobile industry QR codes are both a way of making it easier for customers to get to their favourite websites using their mobile and a possible way of generating mobile advertising revenues.
Industry experts believe the time is right for QR codes in the UK. Over half the UK's mobile users have one while 95% of new phones sold include a camera. The first generation of QR codes in this country, however, are likely to be significantly larger than the 1cm x 1cm found in Japan, because most British camera phones have a lower resolution than in Asia.
Philip Makinson, consultant at industry experts Greenwich Consulting, said QR codes are likely to be little more than a bit of fun in the short term but could attract consumers to do more than just make calls and send texts.
"QR codes could help drive not only the take-up of high-end camera phones but make more people aware of the mobile internet and more conscious of the potential their phone has to store information about products and services," he said.