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Will the Camera Phone Become a Metadata Scanner?
[January 31, 2006]

Will the Camera Phone Become a Metadata Scanner?

ABI Research issued a fascinating release today, "The Camera Phone as Scanner: ABI Research Anticipates a New Information Market," based on their "Mobile Phone Imaging" study, which covers the expected drivers for growth of camera phones and mobile imaging.

ABI Analyst Kenneth Hyers suggests that camera phones will begin to act not just as devices to capture images but as scanners that can read metadata from real-world objects. Such metadata could be available through technology similar to that used for barcode scanning.

The release quotes Hyers: "Imagine walking through the park and aiming your camera phone at a data tag on a statue. It directs your phone's browser to a web page about a historic building that used to stand there, or a concert that played there last summer, complete with video clips."
The release also suggests you could "Aim your camera phone at a scene pictured in a magazine, and it could deliver a map or other information about the site. In a store, you could 'scan' a product's label and get the latest consumer report article about it. In the supermarket, you could retrieve a list of a food's ingredients to ensure they won't trigger an allergic reaction."
Some companies, such as scanR and Mobot, have developed proprietary technologies heading in this direction.
Would capabilities like these be likely to take off? Hard to say. Camera phones certainly have become ubiquitous, so the field seems fertile.
Something about this idea reminds me of the CueCat, a barcode scanning device that was tested unsuccessfully back around the year 2000. I believe the CueCat was developed by a company called Digital Convergence. Using conventional mail, they sent out gazillions of these kind of hoky-looking USB (or maybe PS/2) barcode readers shaped like cats. Then they placed barcodes on ads in magazines (I think I remember seeing the ads in Wired magazine); the ads were readable using the CueCat. If you scanned an ad, it would send your web browser directly to a web landing page related to the ad.
As I said, the test was unsuccessful and the project was abandoned. But the connection I see here is that the CueCat was an early effort to connect the physical world with the virtual world, something which is becoming much more feasible now through camera-phone technology.
Al Bredenberg is Web Editorial Director for TMCnet. Please follow this link to visit Al Bredenberg's VoIP and CRM Blog.

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