Barcode Scanning Going Mainstream

The Wall Street Journal has good overview article on mobile barcode (not QR code) scanning during holiday shopping. It features TheFind, NearbyNow, ShopSavvy and RedLaser. There's also a nice graphic/chart at the bottom that discusses the available data and platforms:

Many of the apps make creative use of the cameras built into most smart phones. An app from Amazon, which lets you search and buy products from the Seattle-based online retailer, has a feature called "remembers," in which you use the app to take a photo of something you're interested. Then the feature matches the photo (sometimes with the help of a real person) to a product on the site.

Several of the apps rely on the cameras built into phone to scan bar codes. Some handsets, such as the iPhone 3G, have difficulty reading bar codes in low-light settings, where the basic cameras can't focus on the label. Occipital LLC developed some specialized bar-code-reading technology for its RedLaser app, which has more luck reading bar codes in different settings. The company's app, which costs $1.99, is currently the No. 1 paid app in Apple's "utility" category, with about 750,000 users.

We've long maintained that shopping is a very near-term use case for mobile. And this season among iPhone and Android handset owners it's becoming much more mainstream as consumers do in-store price checks (and in some cases get reviews).

Being able to take a picture of an object or scan a barcode and get immediate quality feedback, competitive pricing and nearby inventory information (in some cases) and, soon, promotions is a very practical application of "augmented reality." Here's a video of RedLaser in action:

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Several things are now coming together to enable these apps and experiences: retailer inventories are being opened up and delivered as feeds to third parties (some are getting data in other creative ways, such as Milo). This combined with online price and reviews information, which has been around for some time, create the basis for very useful in-store mobile shopping apps. We'll only see this area expand and grow in the future.

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Related: CNET releases Android barcode scanning app, "Scan & Shop" (MediaPost covers). Very much like other barcode scanning apps. You can: 

  • Search for a product
  • See wish lists
  • Get price alerts
  • See history
  • Settings¬†

Finally, the NYTimes offers a broad article on smartphones and shopping: Mobile Phones Become Essential Tool for Holiday Shopping