About a year ago, Microsoft Research introduced a new 2D bar code technique called simply Microsoft Tag. Unlike the two most popular 2D bar codes, QRCode and Datamatrix that use dots arranged on a square grid, Microsoft Tag uses a triangular grid, which allows for slightly higher data density. It also allows for 2 bits of data per dot by using color printing with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK) dots rather than just 1 bit with black and white dots. This doubles the data density.


Comparison of 2D codes. Image from Microsoft

Microsoft is really starting to push their Tag technology and has developed scanner apps for all the popular smartphone platforms, including iPhone and Google android. You can download it from http://gettag.mobi. The Tag specifications were designed to work with a low resolution phone camera, and even work with out of focus and blurred images.

Another clever bit that Microsoft introduced was having a unique web service that creates tags and another service that resolves the tags to a URI. For instance, I created the tag shown below and assigned the url for this blog post. I can print the bar code on a poster (or on my Facebook page). Users can scan the tag using their smartphone and it automatically opens a browser window to the blog entry. How cool is that?


The MS Tag for this blog post. Image by George Taniwaki

But the coolness gets even better. Because the Tag specification is fault tolerant, the spaces between the dots can be filled with color, so that the Tag can be branded. For instance, take a look at the examples below of Tags that don’t look like tags, but still work correctly. Go ahead and scan them to prove it to yourself. The jelly beans one is my favorite.


Examples of MS Tags. Image from Microsoft