Wireless Phone-Based Comparison Shopping

Versatile, multifunction wireless devices — particularly those expanding the functions of mobile phones — will become ubiquitous in the hands of consumers later this decade. Here’s another new usage:

A Florida company, NeoMedia Technologies, has begun selling software that allows camera-equipped mobile phones to read and recognize European Article Numbering (EAN) and Universal Product Codes (UPC) and International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN). The software thens display comparison prices for the same merchandise from other stores. In liaison with Amazon.com, NeoMedia has programmed the initial version of its software for book shopping. The company’s President Charles Jensen says that consumers can, “just take a picture of the ISBN on the book to comparison shop at Amazon.com right on the screen of their wireless Web browser.”

NeoMedia calls this software ‘the killer wireless app’, which of course it’s not (voice telephony is, followed closely by Short Messaging Systems). Its software is similar to that inside DigitalConvergence’s ;CueCat scanners but repurposed for the consumer shopping market.

We already often use our wireless T-Mobile MDA when shopping. Though it doesn’t have a digital camera to scan bar codes, it allows us to Web surf for better prices from other retailers when visiting a retailer’s store. When we’ve bought computer and photo equipment, that pricing information has let us negotiate hundreds of dollars in lower prices on-the-spot from retailers. (This has more than paid for the US$500 cost of our T-Mobile MDA.) New software, such as NeoMedia’s, will make this comparison shopping process even more efficient for digitally-equippped consumers.

One thought on “Wireless Phone-Based Comparison Shopping

  1. you may not agree this is a ‘killer app’, but Robert Scoble of Microsoft fame calls it one in his blog last week:
    http://radio.weblogs.com/0001011/2004/07/01.html#a7901
    Killer camera phone application: barcodes and search

    It’s not every day that you get to see a killer application for the first time. Today was such a day.

    Chas Fritz, chairman of Neomedia Technologies and Diane Heiser, account manager, bought me lunch. No, that wasn’t the killer application. But it was pretty nice!

    While munching on my hamburger (hey, I’m a cheap date) he pulled out his cell phone. Then he pulled out a deodorant product. He said something like “imagine you’re in a supermarket and you want to see if you’re getting the best price on something, like, say, this deodorant product.” Then he aimed his camera phone (it was a standard old Nokia 3650, albeit with a plastic macro lens attached to it so it could do closeup shots) at the barcode on the back. He snapped a picture. Said “look at this, it’s connecting to our Web service.” After a few seconds a Web page came back with a variety of information on the product and competitive pricing.

    Now, this was obviously a bit of a mocked up demo, but it floored me. I hadn’t seen anyone actually demo such a thing. He did something similar with his business card (it has a barcode on it). Up came his personal web page (where’s your weblog Chas?)

    He told me to imagine that every household item with barcode on it now is interactive. Imagine you’re a manufacturer. You can give interactive coupons to people to try to get them to switch to your product.

    I started getting into it. Imagine you’re at a bus stop in Seattle. Did you know there’s a Web service that shows you where the next bus is located and how far away it is? At every bus stop there could be a bar code. You aim your camera at the bar code. Get back the Web service that’ll tell you how long you need to wait for your next bus.

    Back to his demo. Then he pulled out “Smart Mobs,” the famous book by Howard Rheingold. He pointed his cell phone at the bar code on the back. The retail price was $29.95. His Web service went and found a better price on Amazon (and he would be able to order the book easily without keying in any information).

    So, why was Chas pitching me on this? Because his company, he says, owns patents for putting barcodes to use in searching the Web for information. Putting cell phone users in touch with companies directly. Imagine playing a Coca Cola game online. Point your phone at a can of Coke and the Web service would tell you whether or not you won. And, of course, would happily email you some coupons for your next Coke purchase.

    By the way, thanks to Scott Shafer for setting up the lunch and being persistent in getting me to see this demo. Interesting stuff!
    1:08:38 AM

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