Microsoft Repackages QR Codes, Calls Them Tags

By February 12, 200914 Comments

Microsoft has launched a “new” technology in beta, with the exact same features and function as QR Codes – it allows mobile users to reach Internet websites without having to type out a URL. They are calling them ‘Tags’.

Microsoft Tag for AccuraCast.mobiTag technology helps to convert physical media such as print ads, billboards and product packaging into direct communication links. Users can photograph the tag with a mobile phone camera and use Tag reader software, which is available for free from Microsoft (see link below), to instantly access the encoded information.

In order to create Microsoft Tags, businesses can log on to the site using a Microsoft, Hotmail or Live ID and then fill in a simple form providing a bit of detail about the information that needs to be encoded within the tag.

Microsoft Tags use a technology called High Capacity Color Barcodes (HCCBs). They have been evolved from QR Code technology, which has been widely used in Japan for years now.

QR, which stands for “Quick-Response” is made of 2D matrix codes by which information can be encoded and read by mobile phones with cameras. A standard QR code can record up to 7,000 numeric characters.

Because Tags use 4-colour barcodes, each individual square can record 8 bits instead of the 2 bits on QR Codes. As a result, Tags are just ¼ the size of QR Codes and yet store the same amount of information.

Tags can be used to show a message on the phone, dial a number, scan a vCard and save the details to the phone’s list of contacts, link to maps with driving directions and, of course, link to a website.

Example of a Real World Ad Using Microsoft Tags

The technology will be available for now on Apple iPhone, Blackberry 81xx, 83xx and Bold, J2ME based handsets, Symbian S60 3rd edition and Windows Mobile 5 and 6 handsets.

For mobile marketers, Microsoft Tags provide the added advantage of easy measurement of campaign success through a selection of six reports that allow tracking the number of scans over time and comparing success of various tags and category groups.

Report Charting Microsoft Tag Scans per Day
Sample report of Microsoft Tag scans per day


  • Dean Collins says:

    Actually MS Tags do not replicate the functionality of QR codes.

    MS tags only resolve a Unique ID, it then needs to go over the internet to the MS servers to actually gather any meaningful data……of course dont pay the MS Tax…then the codes wont resolve.

    I dont understand why anyone would roll these out instead of QR codes that are free.

    If you want a 60 second overview on qr codes check out


  • AccuraCast says:

    Tags are free for now, and MS says that any Tags created during the beta period will definitely remain free for the next 2 years.

    So make hay while the sun shines!

  • lol, QR codes are free forever….. now remind me exactly why i would bother using a technology I know i’m going to be hit with a MS Tax eventually for using and promoting?

    (putting aside the technical inferiorities of MS Tags over QR codes).

    Dean Collins

  • AccuraCast says:

    Tracking and accountability via the reports Microsoft provides. Not sure if QR provides the same – they probably do – but they haven’t made a big noise about them yet.

  • hmmm you mean web page analytics showing page visit numbers ….. it’s not rocket science.

    feel free to call me should you need help.


  • AccuraCast says:

    Nope. Referring to scans per day type reports provided by Microsoft themselves.

    You can view the entire range of reporting options when you login and create your own code.

  • wow you dont get it do you.

    this type of reporting is basic and anyone could set this up.

    it’s a shame MS haven’t implemented a real 2d code analytics functionality like provide.

    Like i said before, there is nothing that Microsoft is offering that cant be done for free with QR codes and unless you are being paid to pimp these on behalf of Microsoft you are doing your clients a disservice recomending them to your clients.

  • AccuraCast says:

    Of course anything can be tracked. The point, though, is that it comes as part of the package, which makes it easier for users to implement the tracking and reporting functionality.

    The point of this story has been to inform marketing professionals about Microsoft Tags and what they do, NOT to sell our services, or claim a prefernce for Tags over QR. Those are merely your inferences driven by your obvious disdain for Microsoft.

  • no i’m a microsoft user for a lot of products (no OS religion here).

    my disdain is for the MS Tags product.

    it adds no value over other 2d code technologies and with the MS Tax that is going to be levied should be avoided.

    it’s a shame that MS didn’t just decide to rollout a really good set of qr readers and associated analytics technologies – this would have been worth leveraging, instead they cloudy the waters with ‘yet another proprietary standard’

    I think this can be the last word 🙂


  • paul says:

    It’s sad that Microsoft it further confusing the issue by creating yet another proprietary version of 2d codes. It’s things like this that are holding us back from seeing codes becoming widely used in the U.S. QR codes are totally the way to go, but none of the commercial entities are behind them because they can’t get any revenue.

    I think as marketers, ecommerce experts, and technologists, we should all push to use QR codes (like Japan has long ago discovered). That will force the mobile carriers to conform, and end useless attempts like this from companies like Microsoft.

  • here here,

    This is exactly the reason why it works in Japan.

    All 5 carriers got together and agreed this is the standard, no one has to pay anyone and all of the marketers/handset vendors implemented around this common open platform.

    Here in the USA you have 2 big companies trying to sue each other everytime the other makes a single statement (google The Pondering Primate Blog for a couple of great articles) and in the mean time there is no benefit to consumers.

    MS Tags add no value and are proprietary so once you deploy them you are locked in to the whims of microsoft.


  • robbarnett says:

    I have to agree with Dean & Paul. Why would anyone want to use a proprietary solution that does not offer any significant benefit over its competition? The only thing it will add is more confusion to the market and make advertisers jobs more difficult trying to accommodate for different platforms.

    MS will only be free until it strangles out the competition, at which point they will charge.

  • john says:

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  • Preeti999s says:

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