AMITIAE - Wednesday 21 December 2011

Microsoft Tag App: Not a Bad Job (but some oddities from Redmond)

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Tag app

It is not often that I praise Microsoft, so it may be worth taking note on this rare occasion. I did praise Redmond once before: for the same Tag app that used a proprietary form of tagging which was an interesting alternative to the more widely used bar codes and QR codes. But there is a sting in the tail. . . .

Recently, Microsoft updated the Tag app and has added to its functionality (and usefulness) with the ability to scan QR Codes, while also integrating some of the features into its Bing search facility. Examples of both types of code are shown at the bottom of this page (and all pages on eXtensions).

I had written initially on this app when investigating the early (then) use of QR codes and the apps that were available for the iPhone in early January 2010. Part of what I wrote then was:

Microsoft unsurprisingly takes a different approach. While we are not known for support of Redmond in this column, when Microsoft does something well, it can be valuable. There are questions, however, over any future move from beta status.

The Tag system offers four types of data: URL, text, vCard and dialler. The multicolour codes are created online, and registration is needed. Once data is entered, clicking on the icon shows several ways to handle the code image, including image types, such as JPG or TIFF. Pressing "Render" downloads the image. This also works with a greyscale image.

The iPhone reader app is a free download from the App Store. It hardly needs the crosshairs to fix on the image: just with the iPhone over the image -- Zap -- the code was identified and the app links to Microsoft's site to collect the full data. Like Optiscan, the vCard display is ready for adding to the Contacts list. This was just as effective with EDGE as WiFi. The "dialler" phones the specified number direct from the mobile phone.

A positive note to the Tag is that there are solutions that can be downloaded from Microsoft for other mobile phone platforms. . . .

Update to Version 5.5

In the interim the interface has changed considerably, but now the whole app takes on a newer usefulness. Despite the good idea that the Microsoft Tag system actually is, it failed to take off -- too many steps perhaps with registration and entering data online -- and the QR codes, for all their limitations, are quite widely available these days.

The app opens with a Scan button prominently displayed. A (clean) History line is below and lower down two icons for a check of local weather and an MSN link. As seems inevitable with Microsoft, even finding out the weather takes a couple of jumps as it accesses the Bing servers -- but see below -- and (once set up) offers links to weather plus other services. The background is an image that changes each access time. At the top of this "weather" panel is a Bing search window and below that the last location with a "Locate Me" button which works quite quickly if the device has been relocated.

Tag App Tag App

The scan accesses the camera, quickly checks the code (QR or Tag) and loads the information or accesses the indicated web page. With the Tag scans (even using a greyscale Tag) the code was identified even while I was moving the Phone towards the monitor and before it was properly in focus. As each of the pages was scanned and accessed they were entered into the History line and could then be accessed with one-tap and reloaded from source.

When a page was loaded, the bottom of the screen showed 5 tool icons: a back arrow to return to the home (Scan) screen; a Flag icon which would create a separate entry in a "Flagged Items" list; an Export arrow (Facebook, Twitter, email); three dots (...) which offered to refresh or open the page in the browser; and full screen arrows which displayed the content without the toolbar. Flagged items were not cached and did still need to be accessed online.

On the Home page were a settings icon for linking (or unlinking) to Facebook, an on/off button for Vibrate on Scan, and a button to share the app (on Facebook, Twitter or by email). There were also Terms of Use and Privacy Statement links.


While I was quite enthusiastic about the Microsoft solution and their Tag system when I first tried them out (see above), I am quite pleased with the way the app has been given this makeover. Now both types of code can be scanned with the single app and cleverly this increase in functions integrates with other services that Microsoft offers, such as MSN and Bing.

But here I also have a problem with the way Microsoft operates in distant lands such as this. In the last month, Redmond has released a number of apps such as Sky Drive (an alternative for Dropbox), an iPad version of OneNote and Kinectimals. Of these only the Dropbox alternative can be downloaded from the local iTunes App Store as well as an earlier app called Photosynth.

It gets worse (or at least, more confusing) as we may use Bing as an online search tool here; and this latest version of the Tag app also relies heavily on Bing which we understand Microsoft is trying to push heavily. However, while I have this access to the search engine, the Bing app is another of those unavailable here, although it was when first released. It is installed on my iPhone and any updates are also downloaded. On/Off, Yes/No/No/No/Yes. . . .

While Microsoft can do a good job at times, there needs to be some joining of the dots rather than a piecemeal approach to some markets.

Tag is a useful app: have a look.



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