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Connecting real life and the online world

Imagine being able to get more information on a product by simply waving your phone at it. Or entering a competition by walking over to a display and touching it with your smart phone.


Recent innovations in mobile technologies are about to open up a myriad of ways to interact with systems, websites and people. No longer do you have to manually enter any information; you can simply “wave” your phone or photograph an image to perform an action, whether that action is to transfer contact details, be directed to a URL or complete a transaction.

There are two main areas that are increasingly entering the mainstream: mobile tags, such as QR (Quick Response: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_code) codes and Microsoft Tag; (http://tag.microsoft.com); and Near Field Communications, or NFC. Both work differently, but they represent new ways of interacting with people – physically or online.

Playing Tag

Mobile tags offer a unique opportunity for organisations to interact with potential and existing customers - or in fact anyone with whom they want to have some kind of relationship.

Similar to traditional bar codes, tags can be easily generated and applied to almost any surface. The idea is simple: You aim your smart phone’s camera at the tag, and an application scans the tag and directs you to a particular online destination – whether that is online content, contact information, maps, promotions or virtually any other online reference. Increasingly used in print media, signage and in some online initiatives, tags are increasingly becoming mainstream – particularly in the United States, but there they are also becoming more common in Australasia.

There are predominantly two types of tags in the marketplace: QR, or Quick Response (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_code), codes which have been around for several years; and Microsoft Tag (http://tag.microsoft.com) which is newer, but also gaining traction in this emerging market.

Tags are ideal in a retail context: When a shopper scans a mobile tag, they can also receive a deeper level of information that will help them decide about the purchase of a product. Marketers are also using the technology to provide an insider’s view about a brand—and they are also using the mobile tag to provide immediate status updates that can be sent directly to a customer’s phone.

Opportunities being explored also include the ability to scan-to-pay and also offering loyalty rewards, although these require integration with supporting back-end systems and there are many complexities that need to be considered.

Beyond purchasing, organisations can also use the technology to enhance customer service. For example, how-to instructions, directions to support information or specific contacts can be made can be made easily accessible with the simple capture of a mobile tag.

On the way: Near Field Communications

If you’re not familiar with the term Near Field Communications, or NFC, you soon will be – it’s about to emerge as a common way of interacting with people and “things.”

What is NFC? Near Field Communication is a set of short-range wireless technologies that typically require a distance of four centremetres or less to work. You physically hold a NFC-compatible device near a target, and it works similarly to mobile tags: NFC targets can be simple form factors such as tags, stickers, key fobs, or cards that do not require batteries.

Before the end of 2011, NFC technology is going to be built into a number of the leading smartphones: Google’s Android already features the technology; Microsoft Windows Phone 7 is purported to be supporting the technology in its next release, while Blackberry manufacturer Research In Motion (RIM) and Apple’s iPhone are expected to support NFC in the not-too-distant future.

NFC represents a new set of opportunities for organisations of all types. Like any new hardware feature, the ability to get value from it will come down to software and being able to develop new features or applications that take advantage of its capabilities. In fact, it won’t be until the applications are developed that NFC will be more than simply a capability on these devices.

Pundits have long-expected this technology to enable our smartphones to become mobile wallets. The vision is straightforward: To process a transaction, we simply hold up our phone to a NFC reader which processes the payment automatically; leading credit card companies Visa and Mastercard are already trialling this technology. The challenge is less to do with the technology than its safe implementation – where there’s money, there’s fraud, and significant amounts of infrastructure may be needed to ensure mobile wallets can work in a safe, reputable way.

In fact, the reality is that it’s likely NFC-equipped devices will enter the market some time before the applications that take advantage of the NFC capabilities are available. 

What kind of applications can we expect?

In many respects we’re only limited by our imagination – the ability to envision what the combination of NFC devices and software will enable. There are several examples that spring to mind:

  • Mobile marketing. NFC can be used by marketers to engage users on their phones with just a click or two, similar to how mobile tags work. Chips could be embedded in movie posters or in stickers on goods that can be "clicked." This would enable the user to easily access a movie clip, a discount offer or simple product information.
  • Social media integration. Restaurants, concert venues, bars and other brick-and-mortar sites could virally market themselves using NFC by encouraging users to advertise for them through social media. Users could wave their phones near an NFC chip to "Like" a business on Facebook or check in on Foursquare – much easier than launching a mobile application and typing in a message.
  • Enhancing tourism. With NFC-enabled displays, tourist-focused destinations such as museums and historic districts could deliver information to guests through their phones as they move from exhibit to exhibit. Visitors could also get the opportunity to request more information about an exhibit, find out about its creator, or even start a purchasing process.

NFC chips can be produced for small sums – well under one dollar – making the cost of these stickers minimal, although investment would be required to implement the technology and integrate it with your other systems.

While the mobile wallet may require significant consideration around infrastructure and process, this doesn’t mean that NFC should be ignored in the short term. If any of these scenarios sounds valid to your business, start investigating what’s possible now and take advantage of the opportunities that will emerge over the next few months.

To find out more about the latest trends, technologies and what Intergen's been up to. Check out our recent SMARTS magazine here.

Posted by: Tim Howell, Marketing Manager | 02 June 2011

Tags: Windows 7, communication, Business Intelligence, Mobile, Mobile tags, SMARTS

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