Gauge Mobile Solutions Inc.
Mar 05 2012

By Tony Vassiliev - Chief Executive Officer at Gauge Mobile Solutions Inc.

If you’re reading this you’re probably familiar with QR Codes; what they look like and the basic history behind the technology. I’m sure you’ve also encountered at least one other 2D barcode-like solution. Recent reports by Chadwick Martin Bailey suggests that after 2 decades in existence 81% of Americans recognize a QR Code but only 21% can identify it by name. So what makes the suppliers of other alternatives think they can compete? Let’s have a look at 3 such substitutes with the best value proposition.

Microsoft Tag


Microsoft Tags have grown substantially over the last year; in both awareness and use cases. MS team has done a terrific job compiling resource guilds and building a website with an abundance of information. Granted they have a substantial budget to support their initiatives, but that’s not here or there. The purpose of this article is to compare the technology not the marketing material.

MS promotes the following 4 traits as the key advantages the Tag holds over the QR Code: Customization, “robust” analytics, smaller size and more reliable scanning. However based on my experience none of those are quite accurate:

- Customization: A QR Code can be downloaded in vector format and then modified in Illustrator to incorporate various design elements including logos. Basic colour alterations can be performed within most generators (be weary: contrast is important for fast decoding).

- Reporting: The analytics have little to do with the technology used and more with the platform that was used to generate it. QR Code platforms that have their own scanners may provide a deeper insight into the demographic of the users. However because only a portion of users use the native app and only a portion of them actually complete their profile you are likely to get skewed results. With MS Tags everyone uses the same app but Microsoft does not collect demographic information through their app nor do they present it within the MS Tag platform.

- Size: A Level 1 QR Code can be confidently produced at 15x15mm. In optimal printing conditions it can be reduced to 10x10mm. I haven’t seen any claims that an MS Tag can be produced with a smaller footprint.

- Scanability: Because MS Tag is a High Capacity Colour Barcode (HCCBS) they claim that it produces more reliable scan results even in poor lighting conditions. I have yet to test this in a dim room but I would wager that if the camera isn’t able to separate the pixels of a QR Code it is likely unable to distinguish the colours either. With that said I am not a photographer and with insufficient testing I’m willing to concede this to Microsoft.

Few are aware that Microsoft actually launched a QR Code solution named “Windows Live Barcode” in 2006, which was renamed to “Windows Live Confucius” in August of 2007. The Microsoft Tag beta was not released until January of 2009 and nearly 2 years later the QR Code was integrated back into the platform. 



JagTag is a variation of the QR Code that utilizes the SMS application to allow feature phones to participate. Their original tag was proprietary and had to be sent in via MMS. They have since evolved to include a more traditional QR Code which can be read by most scanners.

I must admit the ability to request information by scanning, texting, emailing or tweeting the code is intriguing. It certainly opens up the potential reach of the campaign. With that said if you’re after the feature phone market or you intend to deliver the content via text message then you may be better off with an SMS campaign (which their platform does support). I have a very robust cell phone plan with unlimited data, text and voice but MMS still costs me $0.40/per message (sent and received). Of course there’s the option to email the image but then we’re likely talking about a user with a smartphone on a data plan, in which case we’ve come full circle back to the QR Code.



SnapTag is another offering in the proximity marketing space that leverages the advantages of 2D barcodes as well as allows participation for feature phone users through SMS. They published a great little infographic comparing SnapTags to QR Codes, which I’ll discuss in detail. Most notably instead of a barcode their platform uses the brand’s logo with a “code ring” around it as the link. Irrefutably this is much more visually pleasing than a 2 dimensional barcode. Aside from appearances let’s look at the other functionality they claim to be superior:

- Works with feature phones: this certainly is true you can take a photo of the tag and send it via MMS, receive an SMS response with a link and can then click to proceed to content. Same as the traditional SMS campaign but with the MMS fee.

- Activates mobile message dialog or a web connection: after trying a handful of tags I was unable to get any content from the app with the data turned off. It seems you can either MMS the photo (no data needed) or use the app to decode the tag (data required). In my experience the app wasn’t able to identify that the data connection was not available and automatically switch to the messaging dialog (as I understand the platform this is the intention).

- “Robust multi-channel marketing platform…” this was a lot of jargon that didn’t make much sense to me. Regardless though, this completely depends on the platform and not the technology so the right QR Code platform can deliver all this and more.

- Brandability: this I already touched on and the SnapTag is a clear winner in this regard.

The infographic goes further to note the following features as unique to SnapTag: Dynamic Responses, Easy to Update, Database Building, Complex Analytics (which doesn’t sound like a good thing to me J), Reusable and Enabling Social Networking. Once again all of these are features that can be achieved with the traditional QR Code so long as you use a solid platform and well-designed content to drive to.


There are also EZ codes, Trill Codes, Maxi Codes, Quick Mark Codes, Dandelions, Blot Codes, and Bee Tags; but for the purpose of this post I focused on the 3 that have gained the most attention. At the end of the day most of the comparisons I’ve seen online peg their technology against the basic functions of a QR Code. Rarely do they acknowledge that with a solid platform our good old friend QR Code can provide full functionality and better reach than their proprietary solutions. In my opinion other technologies such as SMS, Augmented Reality and NFC may be viable contenders for your marketing strategy but in the world of 2D codes QR Code is King. And if what you need is a little visual oomph check out these examples.



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