How Microsoft, Mobile Tag, and AT&T are Killing Consumer QR Code Scanning In Utero

UPDATE 12/13/11 – Microsoft has capitulated; now offering support for QR codes.  ShareSquare unofficial statement: “We told you so, nah nah na boo boo.”

Sidebar: This post contains rhetoric that is more opinionated than our standard blogs.  However, this is something we at ShareSquare feel strongly about, and we believe the truth needs to be told.

Can you imagine an internet with hyperlinks that only work on Windows computers?  Or via an AT&T ISP?

Consumer QR code scanning in the United States is a nascent behavior that holds enormous potential for driving offline-to-mobile engagement, ecommerce and real world analytics.  But fragmentation in code formats threatens to kill it before it’s born.

Mobile Tag just raised 6.6M euros with the intent of bringing their proprietary codes across the pond.  They’ll be joining Microsoft Tag and AT&T Barcode Services in pushing a format that is incompatible with the majority of smartphone barcode scanning apps in the US.  So if you want to access the content, you’ll need to download their specific app.

Do you already have a barcode scanning app? If you’re reading this chances are you do.  Scan Mobile Tag’s logo, as this TechCrunch commenter did.  You’ll get a meaningless string of numbers.  Why are Microsoft and others opting to add a significant adoption barrier to an already fledgling consumer behavior?  They’d like to own the data and the ecosystem around it.

After ShareSquare’s recent TechCrunch coverage, I was contacted by Microsoft, and they tried to sell us on switching from QR codes to Microsoft Tag.  I said no.  While ShareSquare is not in the business of generating a specific type of code it’s in our best interest, and the industry’s best interest, to see scanning go mainstream.  In Japan, market penetration occurred top-down: NTT Docomo had carrier hegemony and decided all new handsets would natively support this functionality.  In the United States, it’s happened bottom-up.  No domestic carrier could have unilaterally pushed this feature onto a critical mass of handsets, even if they wanted.  Instead there’s a groundswell of apps like ShopSavvy (+18M downloads), and others.  All of these support QR codes – none of them support the aforementioned proprietary formats.

So in addition to confusing the consumer, this fragmentation is actively inhibiting a budding network’s critical mass.  Each provider will talk your ear off about their format’s unique features, but for consumer scanning, none of these are significant enough to matter.  The X factor is delivering a payload (the encoded information) that all mobile scanning apps can recognize and use.

There are some B2B applications where a proprietary code makes sense, like logistics and shipping.  However if stateside consumer scanning has any hope of achieving a social tipping point, an open standard needs to become ubiquitous.  None of what I’m saying is a secret btw: America’s largest and longest-standing commercial code provider, ScanLife/ScanBuy, has been promoting the open-source QR code for this offline-to-mobile use case since last year.

Microsoft, AT&T and now Mobile Tag would do themselves, and the industry, a huge favor by moving away from their proprietary formats and focusing their efforts elsewhere, like making the content behind the code more valuable.  If this consumer behavior has any hope of taking root in America, the QR code proper needs to become the de facto physical hyperlink connecting the real world to the mobile web.

Matthias Galica
Founder & CEO

Addendum: as long as the gloves are coming off, I’ll take the time to point out that the first step of becoming an evangelist for something is spelling the word right on your LinkedIn.  Step #2 is probably making sure you’ve got something worth evangelizing.

  • Mimi Newton

    Are there any phones that come with code scanners already installed? Since you are opining, I'd love to know why you think these apps are not coming native with more phones yet? It would definitely help determine the dominant design for codes in the U.S.

  • Matthias Galica

    Yep, the newest versions of Android come with Barcode Scanner pre-installed, which uses Google's ZXing api. Also, the newest version of Blackberry's BBM, 5.0, has a QR code scanner built-in.…/

  • AndrewSkotzko

    Great post Matthias. Echoed many of my feelings as well.

    Having recently seen a Microsoft presentation about TAG, 2 thoughts come to mind:

    1) Microsoft is trying to buy it's way into dominating a market that is both winner-take-all (handsets' installed base has network effects) and which has also already voted against them.
    2) How many times does a marketer find success trying to force their consumer to do something they fundamentally don't want to do? By being proprietary, they increase friction, which lowers consumer adoption and the results of their campaigns, making scanning less successful overall.

  • Scharnagl Thomas

    They count their chickens before they are hatched.
    What is the market share of smartphones with Microsoft`s operating system? Hahaha. Do they think, with “colourful” codes they can raise the market share? Haha


    Matthias, did you know we love you? It's crazy they're sparking off a VHS-vs.-Betamax-like war when there's an open, affordable, flexible format that people are learning to use to make their own internet of things…

  • Steve O'Connor

    I'm glad to see more people in key positions talking about this. MS are pushing their format hard, using 'evagelists' (i.e. 'sell their grandmother' sales people) and their established link through Windows and Office to convince businesses. I'm waiting for the inevitable pricing structure to be rolled out.

  • TerenceEden

    Interestingly, the latest Windows Phones 7 devices *don't* have an MS Tag reader installed.
    You can read a little about the decisions on my blog…./

  • peSHIr

    Very true: we need handsets (or software for them) that understands all the formats out there, or one dominant format should be chosen. Asked Microsoft Tag almost immediately, but……

  • Ian Lewis

    Some responsibility lies with advertisers who are out of date with this kind of technology. There are plenty of commercial opportunities to popularise 2D codes but they aren't being taken which means that the exposure to them is so low that innovation is being limited.

    It's unfortunate that Microsoft might be the people to monetise this as they will be selling ideas of how to make money out of the use of the codes. One of the hurdles is getting people to put them out there closely followed by encouraging others to scan them on their smartphones and reap the benefits.

    Edit: I have just been informed that QR codes were created by Toyota but have been under open licence for so long as to be the de-facto standard.

  • Roger Smolski

    In my opinion it is not true that these companies are “…killing consumer QR Code scanning in utero”.

    They are raising the level of consumer awareness of 2d barcodes in general and this is no bad thing.

    In this battle for the hearts and minds of the consumer it is the consumer who will decide the victor and at the moment QR Codes are winning convincingly.

  • marklipsky

    Hey Matthias –

    Thanks for the spelling correction. Easy to correct. Not so easy to correct your questionable thought process. (Also not easy to correct your giddy joy at public humiliation of others but that's likely a product of poor upbringing which you can't be blamed for.)

    I don't think it's useful to address your comment here. But anyone that's interested in discussing this complex issue directly with me, feel free to reach out at

  • Matthias Galica

    I'll take the heat for making it personal. But what I want to see from you and MS is some hard metrics on usage, installs across platforms, and scanning conversion rates. Only actual Tag numbers I've seen is number of appearances in publications and no one should be impressed by that. Do this in a public forum – I'm tired of hearing of meaningless marketing speak on 30 min phone calls. Consider it Step #3 in being an evangelist, lay your facts on the table and engage the public in open discourse. Don't insult the collective intelligence by saying it's too complex and use that as a smokescreen for big company obfuscation.

    Simply put, there is no reason to take you seriously unless we know the total number of Tag Reader app installs in the United States right now. Period.

    Fwiw, poor upbringing is a chip on my shoulder. Forces me to design lean products that people actually want to use, instead of leveraging multi-MM marketing budgets to ram it down their throats.

  • Roger Marquis


    You and others talk about fragmentation in the market (code providers as well as code reader apps) and what it means to adoption and long term use and acceptance of the technology, but I have to agree with some who comment here that it is for the user/consumer to decide, as well as the brand (and its agency).

    Let a company like Microsoft build a proprietary platform and when the day comes that they will start to charge for services, let's see what the drop off rate is and who brands turn to then. Let a company like AT&T build a proprietary platform (outsourced to MobileTag) and limit brands to only being able to link URL and vCard information to the code. And, when AT&T starts to charge for services as well, then what happens?

    You write, “Microsoft, AT&T and now Mobile Tag would do themselves, and the industry, a huge favor by moving away from their proprietary formats and focusing their efforts elsewhere, like making the content behind the code more valuable.” but I disagree. It is not for these companies to make content behind the code more valuable, that's up to the brand and its agency. And, as I point out on my blog, it's unfortunate that the brands are failing at this miserably.

    As with most any other product or service, there are choices and there is competition. Why some believe that there needs to be one provider or code standing at the end of the day, I am uncertain (although I believe it has something to do with ownership of data). Yes, fragmentation and proprietary products may slow the overall adoption rate, but what will make it even slower are 2D campaigns that result in a less than ideal (read: relevant, meaningful, valuable, beneficial, unique, innovative, friendly, enhanced) mobile experience for the consumer/user.

  • Matthias Galica

    Well said.

  • How Microsoft, Mobile Tag, and AT&T are Killing Consumer QR Code Scanning In Utero (Matthias Galica/ShareSquare Blog) | Activities for older people

    [...] Galica / ShareSquare Blog:How Microsoft, Mobile Tag, and AT&T are Killing Consumer QR Code Sca…  —  Sidebar: This post contains rhetoric that is [...]

  • Roger Marquis

    Thank you.

    One other item comes to mind and this is what “the other” Roger mentioned…from my perspective too, QR Codes are leading the field. Tags might lend themselves to more high profile engagements and uses, but they are not as widely used as QR, and they suffer from poor user experiences just as much as a QR Code based campaigns. Tags are not the silver bullet. The creative and strategic process, offering, experience and deliverables are, all of which come from the brand, not the code.

  • postyoursquare

    I don't see the point of why Microsoft and AT&T trying to recreate the QR code when it's worked so well in Japan for many years. Give it up and lets get some industry standards in place – NOW!

  • Think Computer Corp.

    One-dimensional barcodes work just fine for us (and Starbucks)!

  • Rohit Nallapeta

    I think this is a great post and yes building technology, content that is more valuable rather than trying to propertieze the format. Looks like these people want to be the gate keepers of innovation and different formats will kill the potential of the technology.

  • rski

    Strange nobody notices QR codes are a dead alley, an idea only pushed by marketoids these days. An URL nobody can read without a decoder.

    There are mobile apps now that can scan proper URLs, so I believe there is no reason for QR codes to exist in that space—not that there ever really was.

  • MHz

    The market will weed out these attempts to force proprietary apps and platforms onto people. Microsoft should know better by now. Remember “information wants to be free”? That really means people want access to information to be unhindered by corporate interference.

  • greenlight

    I believe Nokia Symbian phones have come with a QR scanner built in for years now.

  • yardmanflex

    ok so where is your WP7 app? shouldn't you be on all platforms.

  • Mike Cane

    Good work. It needs to be said. I was nearly misled by an AT&T ad for “Mobile Barcodes,” thinking they simply had a clever brand name for QR Codes until someone put me straight. This slicing the market must stop.

  • Frankinbozeman

    Having experimeted with QR code scanners and the Microsoft Mobi Tag scanner I can say the the Microsoft code scanner scans much quicker than the qr code readers. In fact I had a hard tem getting a good read onthe qr bar codes more time times than not. With the MIcorsoft mobi tag – it seems like the camera found the tab nad read it faster than I could actually focus on it. A more enjoyable experience for me. And it seems as though the mobi-tab links more often that not take you directly to a video or web page formatted for mobile phones. QR code users are going to kill the technology by dropping people off into a busily designed web page – that is hard to view on the smart phone. MAybe you should get off your high horse and actually try it before you bash it.

  • Pedwards

    How many choices of automobiles, cereal, brands of beer and restaurant franchises are there? QR codes vs tags? Who cares. The market will decide to embrace the winning choices and abandon the rest. EX: betamax, VHS, eight track tape, atari…need I go on?

  • Bradchesney79

    …for the right level of error correction you can be missing/damaged/covered up to approximately 33% of the QR code and still get a good read. Also, it was designed for high speed scanning. Let me put it to you this way so you can understand. More faster and okay if busted = gooder.

    I would like to see those same tricks accomplished with any solution you are referring to.

  • Anthony Cerreta

    There are mobile apps now that can scan proper URL's? Do you have any examples?

  • Bradchesney79

    I cannot condone a personal attack, but I do feel the only heavy advantage tag has over QR is that it is backed by Microsoft. Just the same I'm betting the proverbial farm on QR.

    I'm with VitreoQR and in addition to the Denso sanctioned tools we are already bringing to the table we will likely surpass functionality of what I have seen available to Tag developers.

    So, to the people reading this. If you feel strongly that QR is better, we would love to talk with you about how we can help you deploy a ISO solution that works for your business every time with Denso's own QR modules at the heart of our applicaions. Denso is Toyota's part distributor much like Delco makes parts for GM and Toyota seems to like it and those people are all about the relentless pursuit of perfection. Microsoft gave you Vista and made you use it…

    Good luck Mark.

    Take care everyone,

  • rski

    First of all, coming here to this article from a twitter link I had no idea this blog belonged to a party invested in QR technology—I was rude to start criticising it straight away, uninvited. Apologies are owed.

    This is, however, how I feel about QR codes. They are an interesting technology and I am sure will have their use, just not for street/print advertising. They provide a way to skip URL entry but at the same time aren't readable to humans. This is a serious usability flaw.

    My experience with QR codes on the street is, in every case I had to rescan at least once (this could have to do with iPhone's poor camera, but still a valid experience). It is a cool novelty, but I don't see it catching up.

  • Anthony Cerreta

    Great post and looks you're not alone. Laura Marriott from NeoMedia reflects similar views in her statement in “QR code has most traction among bar codes: NeoMedia chief” on at…

  • rski

    I never looked for one, to be honest but used OCR apps in the past—quite precise ones, i.e. not just for text but typeface recognition. Most users don't have a problem typing in an url, this action alone reinforces its remembering, as opposed to scanning non-human-readable code.

    In a discussion recently, someone suggested street QR codes could easily be hacked with stickers—I found this aspect fascinating, wondered if it had been done already.

  • Matthias Galica

    Like I said, I'm willing to concede going there first, but let's weigh “personal attacks” on balance. I pointed out that our man misspelled his own title. He then suggested that my momma didn't raise me right. Worse though he didn't actually address the issue at hand.

    Still waiting on those hard figures Mark.

  • Pallab De

    Wow! Insulting your critic's upbringing. Classy indeed.
    Shame on you Mark. You crossed the line.

  • Bradchesney79

    No apology necessary, going back over what I wrote it does have a tone that does not match with how I say things face to face. You would have received the same words, but with a playful spin.

    We are the only company with the Denso software. The QR codes you have been using may not be up to ISO quality standards. We have the software written by the people that wrote the specifications.

    One of the things that QR codes, as mentioned in the regular article, is about tracking and recording data. QR codes are a layer in a whole solution that allows us to actually measure the effectiveness of the client's campaign. It is worth something to know your ad is or is not registering with it's viewing audience and with some mediums an somewhat precise measurement of how many people could potentially have been moved by the piece. This is why they will be out there, they are a tool for marketing as you mentioned.

    I actually am in charge of building our V 2.0 analytics to collect all this data from the cutting edge video ads with clickthrough, or QR scans, and all the things you can monitor passively. Then there are the things you can monitor actively:
    -How long your employees really take to create a campaign with our tools
    -The amount of errors from not reading the directions entered on our forms
    -Which of your offices use our tools the most

    There are so many things that can be recorded. My superiors stress that the data we are collecting be handled in an altruistic way. So, many of the things flying through my imagination may never come to fruition. Just because I can is no reason that I must. Trust is very important, and I can respect that.

    But, on the consumer side. Sometimes the space for the information is just not enough for everything one might want to know. Take stereo shopping at XYZ Big Box Store, the things I want to know barely fit on the box it comes in– let alone the 3″x5″ card of which 20% is reserved just for the price alone. Enter the QR code. I shoot it and after I scroll down on a mobile (or mobilized) website I can see my usage of all three HDMI ports does not hinder my use of any of the other older input ports– all because I could instantly access a website on my smartphone. I'm lazy, I would not have typed the website in. I may have googled the model number, but it is mildly inconvenient to punch in a web address android or iphone. I would start an app and hit a button.

    Your argument is that I should just scan the text and OCI style get my same redirect. It just doesn't sound as sexy.

    But then like I said, there's damage to worry about, covered up stickers, and limited time to get the potential customer to do something. With cameras getting better and better, the readability issue is likely just going to evaporate.

    More than you ever wanted to know, but I do appreciate the opportunity to 'soap box' a little.

    Take care,

  • joe sixpack

    absolutely agree

  • Steve O'Connor

    You know those 'evangelists' I mentioned in my previous post? marklipsky just happens to be one of the worst I have come across. He is just as arrogant here I see, plus he failed to state that his job is to sell MS Tags to folk.

    Hi Mark :)

  • BayanSell

    QR code is already a standard. Everyone should stop supporting proprietary formats.

  • Dean Bubley

    As an industry analyst covering mobile, I've been aware of QR codes for several years. Yet I have to say that I agree that they are (at best) a distraction. I've certainly never come across a use case in my personal life that has made we want to scan one.

    I think the problem is partly that the process itself is clunky – firing up an app/the camera. But moreover, I don't WANT to be analysed as a (potential) customer. I want to go to main site, not or… . Yes, I'm aware that web adverts profile me courtesy of Google or Facebook, but I've accepted that as a cost of using their free services. I won't accept being profiled / analysed / directed by an advertiser offering me nothing in return.

    Overall, I think that the 2D barcode market has suffered because of its prime focus on advertising and branding. It distracts from the million other possible applications that could drive uptake.

    In a similar fashion, NFC is going to suffer because of its over-focus on payments. My view is that NFC is more about revenue-free “interactions” not paid “transactions” and the value chain will need to reflect that.

    So if QR (or peers) are to succeed at a massmarket level, it will be whichever ecosystem steers furthest away from advertising.

    Dean Bubley
    Disruptive Analysis

  • How Microsoft Tags and AT&T Mobile Barcodes are bad for QR Codes [via ShareSquare blog] | Cory Brown, Small Business Marketing Consultant and Graphic Designer in Austin, Texas

    [...] How Microsoft, Mobile Tag, and AT&T are Killing Consumer QR Code Scanning In Utero [ShareSquare blog] [...]

  • Dean Bubley


    There are plenty of industry “standards” in mobile that attempt things which are done better on a proprietary basis. (For instance, Skype vs. IMS-based VoIP). Often the standardisation process is highly politicised and may overlook concepts which are clever, but too disruptive to certain interest groups.

    If standardised solutions are good, they'll win out in the market.

  • BayanSell

    Because it creates incompatibility.

    When did Microsoft create something proprietary that is superior anyway?

  • Bradchesney79

    We do advocate making part of the message beneficial to the user where the scan links to a coupon/code/something that saves the customer money and makes it worth their time or provides useful information with links to mobilized sites (while being somewhat resilient whereas a URL missing things will usually result in 404: not found).

    About being analyzed, sorry about that. But the end consumers aren't our target customer. Our targets are the people that want to know if their advertising is working or would like reasonable proof their efforts and resources have not been wasted.

    I hope it is of consolation that my superiors are adamant that we maintain strong respect for the end consumer's privacy and do no harm with our data collection. For proof you can read our coming privacy statement. It is planned to be short. How many words (even in legal speak) do you need to say that the only people with access to the data (some of which the end consumer will have to consent to be sent) are those that bought the ad, the database administrators, and select internal Vitreo staff when necessary.

    This technology is prolific in Japan. Some Japanese scan their groceries to see where they came from and how fresh they might be. I have no doubt the usage will become as integrated into our daily lives here as well. Advertising is not the only purpose. But, for the people that want us to help with their goals– to find out more about people that are interested in their work, we have a tool for them.


  • Bradchesney79

    @Matthias Galica

    I don't think these other technologies are bad per se, but I know I am also backing the one I feel has the technical and distributional advantage. The only one that I see as a real competitor is the Microsoft tag because they have what essentially amounts to a monopoly on personal computers for operating systems and boatloads of money to make a go at it– it has nothing to do with the actual tag which has few technological advantages.

    I used to code web pages for local bands. I think the niche you are serving is a really cool idea. Nothing but the best for you in your endeavors.


  • Rob V.

    Wow. Matthias' initial post may not have been particularly kind, but your response, Mark, is downright rude and unprofessional.

    As a self-proclaimed evangelist, you ought to work to sell yourself better. As a public face for a publicly traded corporation that has long struggled over its reputation, you ought to be remanded if not let go as a liability. As a human being, you ought to just wonder what your mother would think.

  • MaurieD

    There's room for MS Tag and QR Codes, provided the QR Codes can all be read by any generic QR Reader. It's the “indirect” proprietary faux-QR Codes that cause real fragmentation and confusion in the marketplace.

    There are a slew of new companies who are using the QR Code format but demanding that they only resolve via a proprietary app-reader.

    What this means is that I will NO LONGER scan QR Codes, because I'm tired of finding that half of them won't resolve with one of my six generic Readers.

    MS Tag are taking advantage of this QR fragmentation and they are landing the most high profile consumer-facing marketing/advertising accounts while the QR industry shoots itself in the foot. The problem with “open source” is that this kind of Wild West thing can happen, destroying the value that was once there.

    BTW, talk to advertisers and even many of the larger mobile marketing companies — not one of them cares for QR (or 2D), they are all hoping image recognition and NFC will come to market soon.

  • ImageRec

    My guess is that GOGGLES could do this, with a minor tweak.

  • Sal


    Exactly. The more any format succeeds, the larger the pie gets. Worry about divvying it up later.

  • Guest44

    MS recently (within 2 months) made announcements re: their T&C and have made it clear that the free service will continue (I believe until 2015). But, the free service is for kids. If you only care about scan number metrics and a heat map, it's fine. If you want to get real barcode analytics, you must use a different platform and service (or, see if you can pay MS for real analytics).

    There has been a lot of misleading statements about what MS can do with the analytics they gather. Read the T&C, it's really not very invasive. The only real problem is that “free” accounts get such thin reporting.

  • Question

    Just like the market has weeded out all things Apple?

  • Jim

    Great application IMO at the Santa Barbara zoo. Qr code on a little placard next to each animal pulled up more info, videos, feeding schedule, etc. I can envision lots of good uses.

  • Yohei Nakajima

    Come on Mark. This was an opportunity for you to present us with information to convince us that Microsoft Tag makes sense. Instead, you make the brand seem insecure and pity.

    I'm from Seattle, come on man…

  • Rinoldo

    Mobiletag and AT&T scanner reading also the qrcode!
    We need to be objective.

  • Dean

    Like animals marking their territory – literally.

    It is a shame these bullies will confuse consumers even more during these formative months.

    It is my opinion that standards will win out and content is king, it will just take longer and be more painful…(like working in Vista).

    The bad news is they have the deep pockets and can afford to give it away, while small businesses need to find a way to make money at it…now.

    Perhaps it’s time for a protest. Let’s get a bunch of people together and create a human QR Code (true ISO compliant of course) that resolves to a video collage of people giving AT&T and MS the raspberries.

    Never a dull moment!

    Dean H.

  • Steve O'Connor

    “There are mobile apps now that can scan proper URLs…”, but you've never seen one. How does that work?

    Most users (in my experience) are grateful to NOT have to type a url, just snap an image or scan – when they find out about QR codes.

    Bus stop QRs were 'hacked' in Japan via stickers (pron sites) but, surprisingly, there seems to have been little of this activity.

  • Gregg Hamilton

    Wouldn't it be possible for an app to be developed which could scan and interpret multiple code formats? Wouldn't this save the day?

  • Steve O'Connor

    It would – if the companies creating the proprietary codes would let us, but they won't.

  • Bradchesney79

    QR is a more or less a open standard– evidenced by the availability of the specifications from it's creator Denso Wave and the myriad of creators and readers available out there.

    To be fair, the group I am with is the only entity with the right to distribute solutions with the Denso created software modules wrapped up inside– but people can interpret the specifications and build their own modules.

    I will assume you are logical and intelligent people and you have the power of the entire Internet to compare QR codes against the alternatives.

    Microsoft only gives you hooks, APIs into their proprietary code, and the others are just a smidge obscure. Good luck integrating.

    Or, you could just focus on the one that is everywhere and available from a hundred dozen services if you don't want any of the standalone solutions.

    Do one thing, do it well. I will not be giving the other technologies any more time than I already have.


  • A-Sun Truth

    Who's Microsoft? Don't they make XBOX?

  • retailgeek

    Good debate.

    MS Tag (and some of the other proprietary 2D formats) have some nice technical advantages that I wish were in QR Codes, but at the end of the day, the negatives associated with its proprietary nature, outweigh its benefits.

    As a retailer, can I release my own apps with my product catalog, affinity program, and allow native scanning of MS Tags w/o any licensing encumbrances as I can with QR Codes? (I don’t want to force my users to leave my app to be able to scan my barcodes)

    Can I launch a major campaign using MS Tags, and be able to verify that no one at Microsoft will have access to the scanning behavior/metrics of any of my customers? Can I even honor my own privacy policy if I use MS Tag?

    Can I verify the penetration of readers across all platforms?

    I have great sympathy for Mark and his colleagues. They are being asked by Microsoft to evangelize a technology, that Microsoft itself doesn’t seem very committed to. Did win 7 mobile (or earlier windows mobile OS’s) launch with native Tag support? How many of the physical SKU’s that Microsoft sells currently include Tag’s on the packaging (I know of 2, out of 10,000+ SKU’s)? Do Microsoft’s ad campaigns use Tags? What about the 8 Microsoft Retail stores? What about the thousands of retail stores that Microsoft buys displays in, do any of them use Tags?

    I’d have loved to have seen MS release Tag as an open format and aggressively support it, but that’s not how they choose to play it. Given MS own half-hearted support, its proprietary nature, and lack of any legal assurances about its future financial models and data privacy it’s pretty hard to advocate it for many use cases.

    Just my $0.02. Cheers,

    Jason “Retailgeek” Goldberg

  • Mstagmaster

    Go ahead and pet your ego and continue on the QR code path of no return. Microsoft Tag is the future because of it's continuity. I know it gives you a sick feeling and it is hard to say goodbye to things that you have invested in. But it is now time to pivot.Your ignorance is displayed by your obvious lack of research. I suggest you step back for a day, do proper research and I am sure you will see the light..

  • Steve O'Connor

    Wow. Do you find that acting like a troll and throwing out insults works as a marketing technique?

    Honestly, I've only come across this kind of arrogance from MS Tag 'evangelists' such as yourself. What does that say?

  • rski

    This thread cost me €0.79 —I just bought the app :)…

  • Mstagmaster

    So defensive are the QR menonites. I don't see a QR Code on the cover of USA Today but I do see a Tag. I do not see QR Codes in the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Edition but I did see 50 Tags. I do not see growth of Fans on the QR Code Face book page but I have seen the Tag page grow by 2786 fans in 3 months. I don't see anybody financing QR out there with 50 billion dollars but I do think Bill Gates has it. They say that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. By the way I can not be a Troll as all Trolls are democrats.

  • Mstagmaster

    I create custom Microsoft Tags with a QR Code superimposed over them so they can be read by both readers.

  • Mstagmaster

    Ridiculous. The model T was the standard and that is exactly what Henry Ford said..

  • mstagmaster

    ATT has nothing to do with Tag. Where did this urban myth come from???

  • Mstagmaster

    Something wrong with making money?? You get what you pay for.
    Only democrats want something for nothing.

  • Mstagmaster

    I am sure if Microsoft preloaded the Tag reader app on their phones QR Coders would be screaming foul..

  • Amannira

    FlareCode will save the day soonn enough,, coming this summer

  • layzeebear

    ha this is ridiculous; you haven't done your research on why MS Tag is closed proprietary and refuse to listen to anyone when they try and give you the information.  Your argument in the article presents no relevant facts and basically just stems from a pre-conceived notion of hating the “corporate giant”.  I also understand that as far as being a computer guy in this information age, you are almost mandated to oppose anything that isn't free and open source, but look at some other blogs, sites, or any other available research to find out the methods behind Microsoft's supposed madness instead of flying off the handle.  Emotions that transcend text in the Internet world do not show strength when argued against the objectivity of knowledge.

  • Matthias Galica

    Homie, I'll overlook that your comment appears to suffer from the same issue it tries to preach.  

    In the interest of a dispassionate reply, I'll point out that the problem I've ascertained (after extensive research) with Microsoft Tag's “facts” is that few, if any, of them are material to an apples-to-apples comparison vs. other code formats.  Many of these, such as “MS Tag is more easily scanned” are non-quantitative, entirely unverifiable and serve as a smokescreen.

    The most egregious of these is their categorical refusal to share the number of installs for their Tag Reader app, which given the additional barrier to consumer adoption this represents, is arguably the most important information for anyone choosing between the formats.  

    - Total install base of the plurality of smartphone apps that can read a QR code: ~40 million.  
    - Total install base of MS Tag Reader: nobody knows.  It isn't even coming pre-installed on Windows Phone 7.

  • layzeebear

    As it sounds right now . . . homie, if you're only looking on MS's website than that doesn't qualify as “extensive research”.  But in the interest of not writing out a 10 page side by side comparison, perhaps I can just give you one useful link:


    Even iPhones have had the free app available in their app store.  Over the past 12 months (I guess it depends when the article was published so I'll forgive your oversight on the issue) Microsoft has basically made the app available to every smart phone available on the market.

    Other quantitative information includes:

    1) New
    data from Microsoft reveals that their Tag brought in the largest number of
    scans to date during the month of March. In addition, the number of scans has
    doubled in the past three months, and the number of users has more than
    doubled. (…

    2) WebProNews talked to an executive from Microsoft talking about the increase in usage; according to him # of users increased by 2.5x from Jan 2011 to Mar 2011)

    What barrier to consumer adoption are you referring to?  There's a free app you can download for it on almost any smartphone, and if you're referring to the barrier of non-smart phone owners needing Internet capability to get the app, look how exponentially dominant the smartphone has become in the past year and a half (i.e. by the end of 2011 that problem will be moot).

    Why are quantitative issues so important to you anyway?  Shouldn't the concern be on what the optimal software is and not who's winning the popularity contest?

    For the record, the windows 7 phone doesn' t come with MS Tag pre-installed because they didn't want to show bias when they created it.  They wanted everyone one to know that the software is free and universal.  Furthermore, if they did pre-install it, then users wouldn't have a reason to go to their app-store, thus eliminating a marketing opportunity while simultaneously giving the users the freedom to install their own apps.  Microsoft recognizes that QR codes are the wave of the future of software applications in general, so whether or not they install them will also become moot.

    In case you still couldn't find the information you were looking for through your extensive research, I'm a little bit ahead of you on compiling it:

    Microsoft (MS) Tag v.
    QR Codes

    Visually Appealing

    Colorful (although the image can still be
    monochrome i.e. black and white)

    Ability to create custom brands and logos

    Although advanced graphic design in Adobe
    Illustrator, Photoshop, etc. is required

    Still, step by step instructions are given on
    Microsoft’s website

    Image is easier to process via barcode reader or

    Although curved surfaces seem to give the tag a

    Ability to incorporate color lets the image have
    a smaller minimum size requirement’

    Dynamic URL’s

    Sunset Feature: Or the ability to expire
    tags whenever the creator deems fit

    Only the Unique ID has to be changed to create a
    different tag with a different purpose.

    It is reverse engineered to be changed from the
    back end

    In a QR code, the website that the static QR
    code linked to would have to be amended. 
    This creates difficulties when you are not around your computer to
    change the code or your employee who codes is off-shift

    Tag Management

    Analytics are free and a service for managing
    the tagging statistics is available on Microsoft’s website

    QR Analytics can be free with a few sites that
    offer free analytics services (e.g. Google), but this creation of a third party
    manager may only make things more dysfunctional

    There are third party services available at cost
    that will aid in the process of tag management analyzation and provide better
    all around features than the free services

    MS Tag has had a few successful proven projects
    with and their and UrbanTag programs (e.g. Torino/Turin,

    1.  is composed of:

    Content Management Application (CMA)

    Content Delivery Application (CDA): use and
    compile information to update its Web mobile project

    UrbanTag was quite successful in Italy

    QR has many third party management providers
    available due to its open source, but none are as proven thus far as



    Tag reader can be downloaded for free as an app
    from an app store or a MS website for free

    Now Compatible with almost every “smartphone”

    Software to software communication

    Can contact your e-mail client if the
    information is a vCard and store that information in to your contacts

    No other tests (either online or personally)
    have been found to reveal any other software to software communication


    However, an Internet connection is required
    (non-smartphones are considered out of scope for the purposes of this project)

    URL Blacklisting – Microsoft reserves the right
    to “blacklist” any site that they do not deem fit to be put on a MS Tag code

    Closed Proprietary Source

    I have wrote a position refuting the negativity
    of Closed Proprietary Source in 2-D coding for its security purposes

    However, most will argue that Microsoft is in
    control of your data and that this only *requires* that you have an Internet
    connection to be able to access their servers

    Data Limitations

    MS Tag only holds up to 1000 characters either
    encoding or decoding

    QR holds up to 4296

    Why is this irrelevant in almost every way? 

    Because Microsoft utilizes their servers to
    handle the information

    Thus, the only things that need to be encoded
    are sent to the server.  They are:

    A Unique ID for that tag

    Approximately 20 bytes of information for

    Why might it still be relevant?

    Because Microsoft still only sends you back
    texts of 1000 characters (~200 words)

    This is curious considering that they could have
    a higher amount

    MS Tags are created in a vector format so that
    they can scale in size without compromising readability

    Both Codes Support GPS capabilities, but MS Tag
    has a feature called heat tagging, which tracks how many users scanned the
    image and where they scanned it.  Further
    exploration in to this technology may have been stopped when Microsoft
    re-launched the MS Tag campaign in 2009-2010.



    QR Code is able to encode more alphanumeric numbers (and thus more combinations
    for encryption), it apparently is still less secure than even its kin, Data

    offers no known further security options, and all of the information that you
    desire sending in your message is encoded on the paper medium, therefore making
    it easier to extract. 

    Tag, on the other hand, has the three options to customize security. 

    maximum security option is RSA-1024, an encryption whose prime factorization
    has not been publicly revealed yet, making it very secure. 

    second option involves use
    Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) and Public Key Infrastructure, which is a
    slightly less extreme way of authenticating users. 

    final option is to create the code with no security at all, but even this
    provides some level protection.  With the
    20 bytes of security in the tag being dedicated to protection at all times, and
    the actual message that you want to send not actually being a part of the code,
    it would still be necessary to hack Microsoft’s server in order to decrypt the

    MS Tag violate privacy norms and regulations?

    First, there's no personally
    identifiable information (PII) tied to Tag users' accounts – neither Microsoft
    nor Tag creators are sent user phone numbers, names, or email addresses when
    someone scans a Tag.

    Second, Tag users have to opt in to
    share location data (which allows Tag creators to deliver location-based
    services like directions to the nearest store location). Tag creators can never
    see information that identifies users or their phones, and after opting in,
    users can opt out of sharing location data anytime.

    a final note, I wish to argue the advantage of having closed source proprietary
    for security reasons (from an excerpt on a blog post that I had):

    do concede, however, that closed proprietary software can be a problem.  I
    understand that the Internet is in its information age because of free sharing,
    and that Linux was created through free online collaboration through
    users.  I can truly empathize with that.  Still, what Microsoft is
    exploiting here is being able to use “the cloud” to a better
    advantage.  With almost no data being encoded on Microsoft Tag (with the
    exception of the 20 byte security key and the Unique ID), there is little
    information that actually needs to be stored on the paper medium or
    image.  In this case, you're only vulnerable to having your information
    exposed to Microsoft, a company that could be sued for millions if private
    information was exploited for their personal use.  Instead, I personally
    try to find some optimism in this approach that Microsoft has created. 
    You are given options of having up to RSA-1024 encrypted code, but most users
    can get away with having no security at all.  Why? Like I stated before,
    there is no information on the Tag that is personal info.  Thus, in order
    for a third party hacker to misuse your personal info, he would have to first
    hack in to Microsoft's servers.  That being said, wouldn't it be safer to
    have Microsoft filter the information and okay it before they accept that
    Unique ID as opposed to QR generation that can create malicious URL's (maybe
    even over-top of some publicly beneficial QR codes [e.g. Tourism hot-spot]) at
    any time and place that they please?  For security I'm willing to weigh the
    pros with the cons, and in this instance I can live with what I know I'm
    signing up for, figuratively speaking.  That is why I consider the safety
    from Microsoft to be more beneficial than its harm of knowing too much.”

    Tell me if you want any more info . . .

  • Matthias Galica

    Homeslice, I'm not sure what grander point you're trying to make.  Opening up by saying that anyone can go through the trouble of downloading Tag Reader on their mobile phone doesn't tell us how many people have cared to do so (or are even aware that it exists).

    But I can see the crux of your reasoning by the confusion over why I'm so concerned by quantitative measures vs the “optimal” solution.  As mentioned in the blog post, this is a market that will benefit strongly from network effects, and because of that the winner of the “popularity contest” will carry the day and win the market.  Competing standards eventually disappear into obsolescence. 

    Betamax was touted as marginally “better” than VHS, and VHS won.  I'm glad you find Tag more visually appealing, colorful, etc.  Maybe you can take a few and make some jewelry or something.

  • layzeebear

    i have a position paper on why MS will win out regardless of current numbers, but i left it on my office computer and i don't feel like writing it over again.  It also happens to be a few pages, so if you don't want it clogging your blog in any fashion, I suggest we swap e-mails or have another type of forum for this (  Still, can't get at my documents until Monday though, so you'll have to wait on being proven wrong.

  • Matthias Galica

    Cool, looking fwd to seeing it.

  • layzeebear

    nevermind, this link will suffice with the first sentence of the article –>…

  • layzeebear

    further, if your question is more like one of the the ones towards the comments on the bottom, contact the guy who made the most recent comment

  • Matthias Galica

    Haha being true to your handle, I like it.

    In regard to the stats, as I've mentioned before, saying how many Tags have been printed (3 billion) doesn't tell us anything about how many people have actually scanned them.  Quoting that instead as as a 50% percent increase obfuscates whatever the real numbers might be, and their reticence to share actual scan numbers continues to make me believe they're not that impressive.

  • layzeebear

    although i can see where you might get that from, it was never my intent not to show you out of pure laziness; in fact, surprisingly that has nothing to do with it.  I completed the paper a few weeks ago, but felt that it wouldn't have had the desired effect on what you were looking for.  The paper examined how Microsoft's previous rise to dominance in similar markets (software) and ability to predict trends in those markets will ultimately lead to their dominance, however I felt that still would not have sufficed for what you were looking for.  You still want the stats that a few others are looking for (case and point: the link i sent you with comments on the bottom), which is fine in all regards but also understandably frustrating to most because of there “marketing techniques” to avoid certain numbers. I agree that this is “hokey” if you will to an extent, but I disagree that the numbers aren't that impressive.  Although they are obviously not as strong as the numbers they are flaunting, they are no doubt going to be following a trend similar (though not as steep) to the numbers they are showing on their website.  What I did end up doing over the weekend (besides the comment I posted on the article you were linked to), is that I have been talking to a few representatives from MS Tag via their facebook page.  When I get more details from them (such as the questions you are asking), I will let you know.

  • Aaron Toponce

    For Microsoft Tag, it is indeed a proprietary format that requires a proprietary scanner to scan the code. Generating a High Capacity Color Barcode requires a license, and the number the code represents is only valid, so long as you are willing to pay for the license (it needs to contact a Microsoft server to get the data you're interested in).

    For AT&T Mobile Barcode Services, and Mobile Tag, they are using nothing more than Data Matrix barcodes, which are already an open standard. Data Matrix is an ISO standard, and is in the public domain, meaning it's free of any licensing, patents or royalty fees. See… This is more liberal than QR Codes, which are patented by Denso Wave, even though they've promised not to exercise control over the patent.

    So, to address the items in your post, Data Matrix barcodes aren't fragmenting the user experience. Instead, they are bringing competition to the market. While QR Codes might be a big hit in Japan and South Korea, and they have certainly shown promise for success in the United States, having an ISO standard as a competitor isn't a bad thing at all. Especially when you can install the ZXing app which supports all of the open barcode formats. One reader to rule them all.

    I'm with you on the Microsoft Tag, however. It's a proprietary “standard” (only approved by ISAN) that requires expensive licensing fees to use and maintain. It requires a separate reader (seeing as though the Free Software readers won't and can't support the format), which requires a data connection to get at the information, that is all residing on a Microsoft server somewhere. Even if there are superior features to the code over QR Code or Data Matrix, paying through the nose to use a patented, proprietary “standard” doesn't make much sense to me.

  • estate agents aberdeen

    QR codes a an incredible tool for offline businesses like us,You can link to specific pages.We are currently looking at using QR  codes for property.

    In fact there are many QR code generators out there.I hope the path is cleared for QR because it is getting bigger and doesn’t need any hinderance in it’s adaption.

  • Eddie Hollenbeck

    I just saw a Microsoft Tag on display in JCPenny and can not believe they think a proprietary code can have more or even as much market penetration as QR Codes do. Lame.

  • QwerQy

    “We told you so, nah nah na boo boo.” Awesome! I like you more all the time. ;-)

  • Elizabeth Ricci

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  • Matt