A Simpler Way to Connect the Physical With the Virtual
Place the ticket on a screen and you're at a concert.
The technology, called Touchcode, enables publishers, consumer-product companies, event promoters and others to include invisible codes on printed items that can be read instantly on any device with a touch screen. The codes can link to videos, games, recipes or just about any other online feature; a concert ticket printed with Touchcode could take you to a clip of the performer singing, for instance.
Quicker and SaferThe technology has a couple of advantages over QR codes, chiefly its simplicity. A user only needs to place the printed item on the screen of a tablet or smartphone—or place the screen on the item—and the invisible code immediately connects to the online content. No need to summon your device's camera and snap a shot of a bar code.
"It does look very novel," says William Webb, chief technology officer of the U.K. start-up Neul and an Innovation Awards judge. "Much simpler than using a camera."
Touchcode—which also took the top spot in the Innovation Awards' Wireless category—has another edge over QR codes: security. For one thing, the black-and-white patterns of a QR code are easy to reproduce by photocopying, which can be a problem for codes that are used to make payments—for instance, a technology similar to QR codes is used on train tickets in Germany, so ID is required to prevent fraud. Since Touchcodes are invisible, that's not an issue for them.
Also, QR codes can be used by scammers to direct you to websites that will plant malicious software on your mobile device—what seems to be a discount voucher from a well-known brand, for instance, can lead the user into trouble. Touchcode foils that kind of attack because all the content that it links users to sits on Printechnologics servers, so users can't be misdirected on the Web.
Touchcode also is cheaper than radio frequency identification, or RFID, codes, which are used for some of the same purposes as QR codes. "We are positioning ourselves between pricey RFID chips and QR codes," says Sascha Voigt, Printechnologics' founder and chief executive.
It's Out TherePrintechnologics, which specializes in printed electronic circuitry, developed an earlier version of the technology that required a special reading device. To create Touchcode, it devised a way to print codes using a material that can be recognized by multitouch screens much in the same way that the screens can be triggered by human fingers.
The company has begun licensing the technology, which it introduced last year. German media company Axel Springer AG recently inserted a Touchcode card in the Icon magazine that is distributed with the publisher's Sunday newspaper, Welt am Sonntag. The card allowed users to download the latest iPad version of the magazine at no cost.
Darlene J.S. Solomon, chief technology officer at Agilent Technologies and an Innovation Awards judge, says that while it isn't clear how easy it is for companies to use Touchcode technology for their printed materials, "we thought this could really move the needle."