Android gets its first Microsoft app: TagReader

Microsoft HCCB Tag

Barcode and QR code reader applications are now standard fare for smartphones and can be commonly found for free in any of the major app stores. But far less common are comprehensive services that let users make their own QR codes for free.

This is why Microsoft's TagReader, which was released in the Android Market today, is worth checking out. It's similar to any number of barcode scanners available on the Android platform, except that it is designed to read Microsoft's unique "Tags."

Microsoft Tag is currently in beta, and lets Windows Live users create unique optical codes that Microsoft calls HCCBs (High Capacity Color Barcodes) -- such as the one pictured above -- which link to Web-based content when scanned by a mobile phone's camera.

Microsoft Tags are similar to QR codes in that they can carry a text message, trigger a browser link, link to a vCard, or automatically dial a phone number. They can then be rendered as PDF, WMF, JPEG, PNG, GIF, or TIFF files in sizes from 0.75 inches all the way up to 120 inches.

There are a number of practical uses for optical codes which have already been exploited in the real world. Advertisements sometimes incorporate them to link to additional Web-based content on the viewer's phone, and business cards sometimes feature them automatically place a call or send a message to the card's creator. But uses are not limited to promotion and advertisement, any real-world item can be endowed with Web-based context. For example, you could attach an optical tag to a sealed box, and the tag could tell you the contents of the box when scanned.

But how is Microsoft Tag any different from the free online QR makers one can easily find on the Web? First, it's linked to an account where every tag a user makes is treated as a campaign. They are stored in a big list of tags, and each record in this list shows when the tag was activated, whether it's currently active, what type of content it links to, and detailed analytics showing how many times the code was scanned and accessed. If you were adding Microsoft Tags to a billboard or a newspaper advertisement, the tags could provide a rough gauge of the real-world penetration of those ads.

The Android app itself is actually the most forgettable aspect of the Microsoft Tag ecosystem, and is simply a way to get more users scanning tags. The application is available now in the Android Market.

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