Follow the code

When it comes to cell phones, Japanese consumers are all over the wireless Internet. By August, more than 71 million Japanese cell phone users -- or 86 percent of all Japanese subscribers -- had wireless Internet service on their phones, according to the Telecommunications Carriers Association. That's a huge audience just waiting to be tapped by marketers in a variety of ways, but doing so will take some creative thinking.

For one thing, typing Web addresses into the phone isn't easy on those small keyboards; it takes time and patience. Several companies have found a way to jump that hurdle. A system fast gaining recognition is a two-dimensional bar-code reader that stores data in both horizontal and vertical directions. The small, square reader is called a QR Code and was developed by Japan's Denso Wave Inc. Reader software supporting the system is becoming a standard feature of many high-end phones with camera functions. Users need only start the QR Code reader software, aim it at a bar code printed on an advertisement in a magazine or poster, and, in a second, the data has been captured. The code typically includes a link to a related site on the mobile Internet.

Another use from the folks at NTT DoCoMo Inc., which strongly promotes the technology, is the ability to encode information from its employees' business cards for easy entry into the cell phones' databases.

Publishers are also catching on. Some magazines include QR codes embedded with a link to a money-saving coupon. One city guide to Tokyo features a code on each page and allows users to jump to a Web page with updated information on the area in question.

And -- for reaching cell phone users on the move -- Taito, a wireless entertainment content provider in Japan, says it has gone one better. Its Popar system sends data to phones via infrared light and will be embedded into posters or point-of-sale systems. It can handle greater amounts of data -- still images, audio files and video -- in addition to simple Internet links.There are currently more handsets with infrared receivers on the market than QR Code software, so it's also more universal, according to Taito.

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