Cell phones that read bar codes

Telephones that read barcodes are already hugely popular in Asia and Europe. The codes are not the old-fashioned stripes, but two dimensional rectangles.

For example, you walk into a restaurant, and in the window or on the counter are the 2-D barcodes. You don't even need to snap a picture.

Just point the phone, and, by itself, it goes out onto the network, and gets information.

The information can be reviews of the restaurant, nearby events and the weather. The codes come in a half-dozen styles, some even in color. But not all phones work with the codes. Some require special software.

Nick Swartzbeck failed to get one of his phones to work with the code in this auto detailing shop. But he's not discouraged.

"A few years ago, people weren't text messaging. And now it seems that's what everybody does to get through their day. So, if this is another way for people to access rich, multimedia information on the things that they're interested in, sure. Why not?" says Nick Swartzbeck.

This Windows-enabled Verizon phone works perfectly. The Detail Factory is participating in a project with City Search and a company called ScanBuy. ScanBuy codes appear in health clubs, salons, bus stops, restaurants -- even in magazines. In this Car & Driver Guide, a code appears alongside every automobile, to keep the print content up to date. A music publication could point you to its website for the latest Billboard charts.

The idea isn't new. In the Dot Com era, a device called the Cue Cat turned a bar code into a website address, but it failed because it needed to be plugged into a computer. Today, wireless technology enables a dozen companies to revive the concept -- including Google, in its new phone software.

The challenge is to change our behavior. Window shopping will always be enjoyable. But now, the information hungry can go windows shopping.

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