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Every week we strive to bring you the latest when it comes to new apps and app updates in the Windows Phone Store. But no matter how hard you try, you might miss out on some cool apps. A lot can happen in a week, so we’re going to start taking Saturdays to sit back, relax, and go over some of the highlights when it comes to the weekly changes in the Windows Phone Store.

We’re going to highlight noteworthy apps that are either new or received a new update during the week. We’ll work on tweaking this column based on your feedback. Either way, let’s look at this past week in apps.

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Microsoft has announced the company will be shutting down its Tag service in 2015. If you're not familiar with the name, it's Microsoft's attempt to compete with QR codes by providing a more advanced alternative. Redmond has been working on this form of High Capacity Colour Barcode (HCCB) technology since 2009, but it has failed to really take off leading to the company taking action (despite surpassing 5 billion tags back in 2011).

It's not the end of the road for Tag, however.

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Microsoft have announced that the month of March accumulated the highest amount of tags scanned, since the launch of the mobile tagging service in January 2009. The software giant has printed more than five 5 billion tags in the two years, with a staggering 3 billion served in the last six months alone.

  • March had the greatest number of Tag scans since Tag launched in January 2009, with more than 50 percent more scans than any other month to date.
  • The number of scans per month has doubled over the past three months, and the number of users per month has increased 2.5 times in that same time frame.
  • Three billion Tags were printed during the past six months alone, and 5 billion Tags have been printed since Microsoft Tag’s January 2009 launch.
  • Publishing continues to lead among top industries adopting Tag, with retail scenarios and entertainment holding the second and third positions, respectively.

"Brand adoption and consumer engagement continue to build, with March being our strongest month to date, due to several high-profile, well-executed campaigns," explained Aaron Getz, General Manager of Microsoft Tag. "We continue to have tremendous success within publishing and also see increasing usage by retailers, consumer packaged goods companies and movie studios" he continued.

Tags are being introduced in a variety of different ways, allowing customers and consumers access to more content, information, media, contact detail, maps, social networking and much more. Simply using your mobile device's camera to scan the tag enables you to instantly enter into a gateway of relevant content. Several movie studios, including Summit Entertainment LLC and Universal Studios, have began placing Tags on movie ads, posters and packaging that link to movie trailers, interactive mobile games and exclusive content, increasing awareness. USA Today also began including tags and IFC displays tags on their channel.

Microsoft's Tag reader is available on a number of different smartphone platforms, including Android and Windows Phone 7.

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While we were just talking about how MS Tag has passed the 2 billion mark for number of tags made, the question came up what about Windows Phone 7?

The reader is currently available on Windows Mobile, Android and even the iPhone but at launch, no client for Windows Phone 7 has been announced. Well, as you probably already read in the Tweet above, Microsoft has not only finished the Tag Reader app but it's being tested/approved as we speak, meaning it's just a matter of time before release.

Heck, there's even already source code to make a MS Tag generator. Looks like everything's covered here.

Source: Twitter (@microsofttag)

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Microsoft Tag has announced that over two billion Tags have been printed since the 2-D bar-code system launched back in January 2009. More than 100,000 Tag accounts have been set up and since August, Tags have been used in more than 100 million magazine issues.

Not too shabby for the colorful little square.

Aaron Getz, General Manager of Microsoft Tag, stated,

“Consumers are rapidly embracing smartphones, which opens a new marketing channel for savvy businesses. Microsoft Tag gives brands and their agencies a powerful way to engage this growing set of connected consumers and create immersive experiences that connect the digital world to the physical world."

Microsoft Tags are a bar codes of sorts that connects almost anything to your Windows Phone. When you scan a Tag using the free Tag Reader application on your Windows Phone, it will automatically open a web page, add a contact to your phone, display a message, or dial a number.

Follow the break for the full press release from Microsoft and you can find more information on Tags at Microsoft's Tag Website.

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Google has once again taken the lead in innovation by rolling out their QR code based 'Favorite Places on Google'.

A QR code, seen above, is a 2D tag system that is gaining popularity as the standard for matrix codes.  Google is sending out decal codes to 100,000 local businesses that are the most searched on Google.  In turn, they can place these decals in their store front.  When a tech-savvy (and probably Android wielding) customer walks by, they can scan the code and pull down coupons, information, reviews, etc.

Pretty brilliant.

The question is where is Microsoft on this front? A few years ago they had a QR development program called 'Windows Live Barcode', later renamed 'Confucius'. It then vanished and presumably reappeared as 'MS Tag' which is now a proprietary matrix code system, albeit a very nice one. However, QR code support is gone.

There are really nice third-party alternatives right now for Windows phone, specifically 'BeeTag' (download here) which works flawlessly on our Touch Pro 2 (give it a shot, scan the above QR code). But in order for Microsoft to at least match what Google is now doing, they'll have to put QR code support back into MS Tag, something we hope they will do. Furthermore, can MS Tag survive up against QR now that Google is actually deploying it?

On another front, Google is also now offering 'Google Goggles': a visual identification and search program for Android (see demo here).  PC World has confirmed with Google that "other platforms" are planned but no time-frame is given. In the meantime, Microsoft and Bing, we await your response.

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We've not been the biggest fans of Microsoft Tag for several reasons — it's another standard that would have be be adopted, it's not widely available, etc. — but you have to admit the advert you see above is compelling. And Tag is built ino Windows Mobile 6.5, so we may see it gain some traction.

This video actually is a spec ad directed by a previous Microsoft collaborator.

I Started Something has got a couple more. Check 'em out.

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From the CES files: Microsoft Tag

Here's one we didn't quite get to earlier this month at CES 2009: Microsoft Tag. If the little barcode looks familiar, it should. It's in the same family as the QR Code, the black-and-white dot matrix-looking guy that gained popularity in Japan but hasn't really made it anywhere else.

Now Microsoft is pushing this new standard. Basically, using an app from Microsoft, you take a picture of the tag. The app then gets the metadata off the tag, then heads online to display a Web page, Vcard, text ad, dialier, etc.

Advantages over the black-and-white QR Code:

  • The color and design of the tag allow for more data in a smaller space.
  • It works better with cell phone cameras.
  • Unlike QR Code, this has the full weight of Microsoft behind it.

What's holding it back:

  • This never got off the ground in Japan. Is a better tag enough to make it popular here? Right now, this beta program is only available in the U.S.
  • It's yet one more standard for developers and users. And this one is "owned" by microsoft and needs its servers to work in the first place.
  • Because it goes through the mothership, Microsoft will have all sorts of metrics on who uses the tags (as well as on you, the user). And right now, it's free to create a tag. Will it always be so?
  • Let's face it: This is still pretty gadgety, even for us.

If you want to give it a shot, head on over to www.microsoft.com/tag and download the app, then start snapping away. We'll even give you a tag to start with. (pdf link)


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Microsoft Tag gets an update

OK, so what we have here is an update to the Microsoft Tag system, which is an update to the old QR Code. Have no idea what we're talking about? It goes like this: You load an app onto your phone that takes a picture of the tag and can recognize the metadata in once of these tags. Kinda like a barcode, but much cooler.

The old black-and-white QR Code left much to be desired. It looked like a code. Microsoft's original Tag (seen here at right) was an improvement, with different colors and shapes containing more information. But it still looked like code. With the upgrade, a series of dots can be hidden within a picture, as you can see above. (From left, that's a pinata, jelly beans and balloons.)

And that's cool and all. But if you want me to go to a Web site, just tell me the damn address. (Yeah, we know, it can launch video or audio automatically. But still.) I don't want to load another app that essentially just loads a Web site. That said, I don't have to use it if I don't want to. If this is your thing, check out more at Microsoft Tag. And if you're really into it, there's even a design contest going on.

Via the Windows Mobile Team Blog

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