Open Mobile Alliance proposes standard 2D barcode handling system for mobile phones

Adoption of mobile bar code usage has been slow in the U.S. and Europe, compared to Japan

The Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) has developed a standard for handling 2D barcodes that it hopes will direct mobile phone users to websites more easily. By standardizing the specification for encoding, decoding and resolution of 2D barcodes, OMA wants to stimulate the usage of the codes, it said.

Camera phone users can snap a picture of a two-dimensional barcode to access additional information on the Web about products promoted by retailers and advertisers. Using the 2D code saves the user opening a browser and typing in a URL or search terms to know more about a product. However, not all such barcodes store information in the same way, nor can they all be read using the same software today.

Consumer usage of two dimensional bar codes in Japan grew exponentially once the three primary mobile operators there agreed on a common specification to read 2D barcodes, according to OMA. The QR-code was developed by the Japanese Denso Wave software company, and most Japanese phones now come with a built-in QR-reader. While the use of 2D bar codes is quite popular in Japan, adoption of the technology has been relatively slow in the U.S., said OMA.

In June 2009, a survey of 800 Japanese people aged 10 to 49 conducted by NetAsia Research found that 76 percent of them had used a QR-code at least once, and the QR code users scanned an average of about five a month.

But two years later, a study by comScore found that only 6.2 percent of U.S. mobile phone users had scanned a 2D barcode in June 2011. In the U.K., France, Italy, Spain and Germany, 4.6 percent of all mobile phone users and 9.8 percent of smartphone owners had scanned a QR or barcode during the month, comScore found.

With its new standard, OMA wants to enable interoperability across the 2D barcode market, which is fragmented by non-standard formats. The current model is not scalable for the wide variety of retailers, advertisers, handset makers and mobile operators that want to deploy mobile codes to promote their products and services, it said, adding that standardization can increase usage of 2D barcodes and simplify users' interactions with product information.

The standard comprises two different models. The first model is called a Direct Code, a code that is resolved on the handset using a pre-loaded or downloaded application. The code can invoke functions such as launching a browser, initiating a phone call, sending a text message or storing contact information in the phone's address book, a network connection is not necessary for this format, OMA said.

The second model is called an Indirect Code, a code that needs a network connection to contact a code resolution server that resolves the code. By using this model the code publisher can track and analyze the results of his campaign and can also update content associated with the code without changing the bar code itself, the Open Mobile Alliance said.

The new open standard is backwards compatible with the Direct Code formats in Japan that use Japanese telecom operator NTT Docomo's de facto standards, OMA said. There is mandatory support for ISO/IEC QR Code and Data Matrix symbologies for optimal code reading built into the standard, and there are optional features for Indirect Codes including security and the tracking and reporting of mobile code usage and client analytics, the organization said.

OMA collaborated with telecom operators including T-Mobile, AT&T and Telefó®©£a, handset manufacturers including Samsung and Nokia, and companies including HP Labs and Mobile Tag, it said.

Jay Alabaster in Tokyo contributed to this story.

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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