Mobile technology should not be about cramming the office into your pocket but a way to enjoy your everyday life.

UpCode in use in Helsinki


While waiting for the tram at the local tram stop I noticed a paper with a 2d barcode, more specifically an "UpCode". The local public transport company (HKL/HST) running the trams now has an exciting new service for your convenience based on the latest innovations from Finnish mobile pioneers such as the revolutionary and interactive UpCode, making use of camera phones, built in browsers and 3G to really make you part of the information society.

You can install a special Java or Symbian application (well, a few people can), get down on your knees to be close enough to the symbol, launch the upcode application, hope it starts without problems and is able communicate with the camera, snap a photo of the upcode, hope it is clear enough and - like magic - it will take you to a web page without you having to manually punch in the tram stop number "0105".

However, just in case one of the steps mentioned above fails, or you don't want to stand on your knees hoping for a clear picture, they have that number printed in plain text as well so you can punch in the four digits manually.

I wonder what the companies that did NOT get venture capital funding where trying to peddle.

HKL UpCode

Submitted by Anonymous Sun, 04/08/2007

Yes, it may not be quite so easy to get the UpCode to work (partly because of where the code has been positioned [i.e. too low down] by the bus co.) but their intention was initially to do this for the disabled.

In that regard it achieves what was required - however, an increasing number of the public liked using it too.

You are correct in that it requires 2 or 3 successful stages to work, but those will soon be overcome, and when you have the program on 'smart phones' rather than gimmicky java phones - then quite a few million people (that want to - rather like 'blackberry users') using the codes it really is an excellent everyday tool.

Who wants to type in www.superkalafragilisticexpealidocious/busstop.timings0105 to find out when a bus is due - I reckon you'll see not only bus times but also be able to pay by phone too, then, on the bus you could be getting 3d advertising with audio or video or special offers to your phone - the possibilities are endless.

Let's be positive and look beyond what every new technology must endure in it's earlier stages i.e. not being an instant solution of everyone, but an attractive future of instant and up to date information and that's interactive. Add Nordea Bank, a number of Finnish newspapers, estate agents and other users of UpCode to the mix and you may see some vision is being shared by an ever increasing number of pretty weighty companies who know that everyone carries around a mobile phone - and a wallet (or purse).

One day they may have everything in their wallet on their mobile phone - it's already happening to 30% of the Japanese with QR codes....... - Hendriksen

10 Reasons Why UpCode Will Fail

Submitted by dumell Tue, 04/10/2007

I am convinced that upcode will fail for a number of reasons. This is not a demand driven solution, this is pushing technology on to consumers for the sake of looking innovative. This is not even particularly new technology. My Sony Vaio laptop that I got in the '90s came with a built in web cam, software to generate 2D bar codes and software to link bar codes and content. Sony suggested that you could, for example, label you VHS cassettes and by waving the cassette and its label in front of the camera, the content of the cassette would pop up on your screen. This technology has been out there for some time but is is simply not suitable for consumer use.

There have been similar solutions before that where demand driven and even they failed.

Fifteen years ago some manufacturers of video recorders tried to introduce bar codes to simplify how to program the video recorder to record a specific program. Several magazines and newspapers here in Finland did publish these bar codes next to program listings and some remote controls came with a bar code reader built in but eventually this faded away and instead we got ShowView numbers - a simple series of numbers that you could punch in manually. People preferred manually entering ShowView serial numbers to using bar codes. And how many have bought bar code readers to use with online banking services to scan the reference number on bills? Even if you have, you probably just type in the number by hand anyway since it is actually simpler and quicker than getting the bar code reader up and running.

Let us look at UpCode and HKL:

  1. You don't have to punch anything anywhere to see when the next bus is due, that is written on the timetable on the paper above the UpCode image and on some stops they have displays with live information about this.
  2. Just look at it. A whole lot of people are simply going to ignore it because it looks "too technical", they will simply refuse to even try using it. I am sure there are also some art directors out there that aren't too thrilled about sticking those big black boxes on top of fine looking visual content.
  3. The 2D barcode is complicated to use since it requires you to install a specific software and hardly anyone will. Until this software is built into phones, it has no chance of becoming widely used.
  4. Why would Samsung, for example, preinstall software that is compatible with Finnish UpCode when there are lots of 2D bar code solutions out there? The lack of standards, or rather the multitude of standards, means large scale adaption is not yet possible. I am quite sure a universal bar code standard for camera phones is not around the corner.
  5. A large 2D barcode is not a smart way to simplify a long URL - a short URL is the smart solution. HKL could have written "check the latest timetables for this stop at". Most cell phone users who have written sms messages could type that url faster than a phone application will start - and it looks less scary than a large 2D bar code.
  6. Sure, 2D bar codes are used in some advertisements in Japan but that only means advertisers would like to push ads into consumers' cell phones, it does not mean it is popular among consumers. This is not a demand driven solution.
  7. If this becomes popular, teens will figure out how to manipulate them by adding a few dots or by making their own. Anyone with a laser printer could have done the paper above. If you write "please visit" or "please visit" most HKL users will realize which is genuine. If you obfuscate these two addresses using bar codes, people will be defenseless against url-scams. And there will be a lot of people eager to make fake barcodes. Some will think it is funny to direct unsuspicious users to porn images or anti-globalisation sites, even funnier to direct them to virus infected pages and possibly profitable to direct them to fake pages saying "Nordea Bank customers can now pay their buss tickets on-line, please enter your bank pin code..."
  8. How fun is it to fiddle with your cellphone outdoors when it is -20°C.
  9. Combining bar codes and camera phones is like something out of a Austin Powers movie, trying to combine futuristic technology with technology from the '70s. We can store megabytes of information on a square millimeter and transfer data at rates of megabytes per second and here we store a few bytes (that is really all it fits) on something a lot bigger and we transfer those few bytes using a process that takes a minute to complete.
  10. RFID is going to make 2D bar codes obsolete before 2D bar codes have had time to become widely adopted.