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March 2010 | Volume 13 / Number 3
Convergence Corner

The Next Generation of Mobile Applications

Is there a segment of the communications market more exciting and more rapidly evolving than the mobile space? Hardly. While it wasn’t the first to introduce a smartphone to the market, Apple’s iPhone has provided a boost to the mobile industry rivaled by none. Only Motorola (News - Alert)’s introduction of the StarTAC back in 1996 helped pull the industry forward to any like degree, but the application and content development the iPhone has driven sets it on a stage above all others.

There are currently more than 140,000 applications available on the App Store, and many suggest that figure will eclipse 200,000 this year. Applications are available for nearly every use case, some offering business productivity enhancements, others pure entertainment, and still others delivering information to mobile devices. The same holds for the Android Market and BlackBerry (News - Alert) AppWorld, though both pale in comparison to the volume of applications available to iPhone users.

But, despite the proliferation of mobile apps, they engender little interaction between users and brands other than the device manufacturers. However, another mobile segment is quickly coming into its own, highlighted at Mobile World Congress (News - Alert) in Barcelona, which will change that: the 2D mobile barcode. In addition to creating an interactive experience between the user and the vendor, the use of mobile barcodes in marketing and advertising campaigns provides an opportunity for network operators to monetize their assets.

A variety of mobile barcode use cases have proven not only its viability, but the breadth of application scenarios that are possible. Here are just a few:

  • Masabi has enabled rail U.K. rail system users to purchase tickets by sending an SMS and receiving a barcode on their phones that can be scanned by conductors in lieu of paper tickets.
  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is including barcodes in its print editions directing users to its mobile reader, which will soon also include additional content, including images and videos.
  • Pepsi placed barcodes on 400 million products in the U.K. last year, looking to better connect with the 18- to 24-year-old consumer group, offering mobile content specifically targeted for that audience.
  • In South America, Telefonica (News - Alert) is using barcode technology to enable access to telecom services, such as adding SMS bundles.
  • Sports Illustrated included barcodes in its latest swimsuit issue that would allow users to receive short video clips of models on their phones.
  • NeoMedia ran a fundraising campaign at MWC to benefit Haiti, where it contributed $1 for each scan of barcodes on promotional posters at the event.

Currently, most mobile barcode applications focus on marketing and information dissemination efforts, where users are directed to Web sites or receive additional information via SMS or MMS, though the barcode-based purchases, like train tickets, are growing.

Two obstacles stand in the way, however.

One is use acceptance. As Chris Drake, Neustar’s vice president of marketing and product management, converged addressing Services, explained to me, the key to a successful mobile campaign is being able to deliver content and offers that are contextually accurate. In other words, they have to be tuned to the interests of users, which means they must be augmented with user profiles and even location-based information, driving higher conversion rates.

This also means mobile campaigns must be driven by user opt-in, rather than mass dissemination to broad user groups, which is why initial campaigns, like those of Pepsi, SI and the Post-Gazette, are likely to play a significant role in increasing acceptance of mobile barcode use. Once consumers begin to understand the convenience and ease of use of barcode technology as a means of retrieving information, they will be more likely to accept its use for revenue-generating transactions.

The other challenge is that most barcode applications are tied to operators and particular barcode readers. Neustar is also helping overcome that with its mobile barcode clearinghouse, designed to facilitate interoperability between readers and barcodes, which will also drive adoption of mobile barcodes as a mobile medium.

“The Neustar clearinghouse will unleash interoperability and allow you to understand any barcode, regardless of your reader and get to the offers you receive,” Drake said. “That’s a significant enhancement in ease of use and the customer experience.”

The great advantage the barcode market has over other mobile applications is that there is really only one prerequisite – a camera, which is now included with most devices. Readers can be downloaded at any number of Web sites (visit the Mobile Barcode Innovations Center at for an extensive list of downloadable readers and the latest barcode news and information).

Given the availability of the technology to end users, the mobile barcode space offers a significant opportunity for vendors to connect with consumers, regardless of device and, with the help of Neustar, mobile operators. Also, because mobile barcodes employ pull technology – campaigns rely on an action by the user to trigger a message – they comply with privacy requirements and regulations, which often preclude major brands from engaging in cutting edge campaigns for fear of alienating their audiences or potential litigation.

And, for all you trade show attendees out there, including media members, who are used to weighing down bags with marketing collateral, mobile barcodes offer a green alternative. By scanning a barcode at a vendor’s booth, we can retrieve documentation electronically at any time from a Web site instead of worrying about luggage going over prescribed weight limits. IT

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