The news that Sony Ericsson is to preload NeoMedias barcode reader on its handsets is good news for more than NeoMedia. Because while mobile barcodes are undeniably cool, the fact is that most phones dont have the scanner needed to make sense of them.
In one sense, its only a matter of time, you would think, before barcode readers are preloaded on all new phones, so the Sony Ericsson move is a step in the right direction. There are two more factors that need to be addressed, however. The first is educating the people who buy these phones that there is a barcode reader on them, because I guarantee that most people wont realise. You would think it would be just the sort of whizz-bang technology a sales assistant would want to use in store to the demo the handset and close the sale, but I dont remember anyone flagging the barcode reader up to me as a selling point when I traded up to my Nokia E71.
The second factor is that old bugbear of data. Yes, flat-rate data plans exist, and yes, even pay as you go customers can go online on their mobile for not much money. The problem is that not enough ordinary people realise this, so live in fear of bill shock. Their phone may have a barcode reader, they may like the idea of scanning a QR code on a poster or a tin of beans, but they wont do it if they think its going to cost them a fortune, or if, worse still, they just dont know how much it will cost them.
This is not just my gut feeling. In conversation David Tymm, CEO of digital voucher specialist i-movo a few weeks ago, he told me: The biggest single issue is the fear of what it will cost them to redeem the data. So much so that when the company ran a mobile couponing campaign for Coca-Cola, rather than sending respondents a link to a mobile site to download a coupon, i-movo simply sent them a PIN which was shown to the retailer, who then keyed it in to their PayPoint terminal. Nothing like as cool as a QR Code, but a much safer option, in the brands eyes.
I applaud operators for their efforts to reduce the cost of mobile data. The next step has to be to put some real money behind promoting these tariffs. Otherwise those barcode readers will just remain buried deep in the phones menu system, and mobile barcodes, which do have great potential, will never fulfil it.