business news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times reported over the weekend on something we wrote about here on MNB back in December – the use of cell phones in Japan to provide increased information to consumers.

Describing cell phones as “the Swiss Army knives of technology,” the Times reports that “in Japan, McDonald’s customers can already point their cell phones at the wrapping on their hamburgers and get nutrition information on their screens. Users there can also point their phones at magazine ads to receive insurance quotes, and board airplanes using their phones rather than paper tickets. And film promoters can send their movie trailers from billboards.”

MNB wrote about this way back in December: “One of the things we’ve seen while visiting Japan this week is a system that dramatically increases the level of transparency in the store, especially in the produce department. Aeon, the nation’s largest supermarket retailer, uses what is called a ‘QR’ tag on its private label produce items to allow consumers to take a picture of the tag with their cell phones, then instantly connect to the Internet, where the tag is scanned and then the shoppers are given details about where the product comes from…including a picture of and biographical information about the growers. ”

Noting that American cell phones do not include this kind of technology, the Times describes it this way: “The most promising way to link cell phones with physical objects is a new generation of bar codes: square-shaped mosaics of black and white boxes that can hold much more information than traditional bar codes. The cameras on cell phones scan the codes, and then the codes are translated into videos, music or text on the phone screens.

“American universities and technology companies have been experimenting with the codes in their labs for several years. Now, as more cell phones come equipped with cameras and the ability to run small computer programs, the codes are beginning to appear on some state drivers’ licenses and on some mailing labels, mostly for commercial use.

“There are other technologies being developed for consumers to scan objects, including radio waves, computer chips or satellite location systems, but the bar code technology is the most developed — and simple and cheap enough even for individuals to publish them on printed materials or on Web sites.”
KC's View:
We are extremely impressed by this technology, and how Aeon uses it to communicate a broad amount of information to consumers. Actually, what the availability of information really communicates to consumers is a) confidence in the product and b) a desire for complete transparency.

As the use of the technology widens, we believe that it will put some pressure on retailers and manufacturers to stop making choices (some smart, some not so much) about what gets communicated to consumers. Just make everything available…and let consumers decide what is important.