More Activity in ‘Visual Search’: Microsoft and Scanbuy

Mobile visual search is something I like to consider an emerging field within an emerging field. It involves using the mobile device’s camera as a search or sensory input (rather than typing). The thought is that it’s fitting to the form factor and opens new directions for mobile content and advertising.

This comes in lots of flavors including product bar code scanners, Google Goggles, and the longer-term prospect of augmented reality. These are all interesting but the nearer term opportunity is in bar code scanners, given commercial applications and fewer “moving parts” (relatively).

This area is further subdivided into scanning technology for UPC product codes and QR codes. The former is more pervasive in the U.S. market due to its standardization in retail. The latter is more popular in a overseas markets such as Japan, but is beginning to get off the ground here.

Scanbuy is a company working with both formats, and just announced funding from Motorola Ventures. Its claim to fame is device compatibility, including Android, BlackBerry, iPhone and Symbian. For Motorola, it’s a strategic investment for both financial returns and supply chain efficiencies through direct integration with its devices.

This comes soon after Microsoft’s announcement of a proprietary bar code technology known as Tag. In addition to scanning for product information, the goal is to plant these anywhere that additional information is desired (storefronts, billboards, Yellow Pages ads, etc.). Ties to promotions, coupons and other “directional” media are clear.

Both companies are going for standardization and better device compatibility — the biggest barrier to scale. Microsoft claims to not be as interested in direct monetization as in pushing an easy standard that will facilitate the growth of the medium overall. Direct monetization is something it will worry about later it claims. (Of course it will.)

More details to come, after we’re able to talk to both companies. Meanwhile, below is a video of Microsoft Tag in action.

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