Back in March, I read about Torrent Droid. This was the winner of a competition to develop an application for Android phones, the application being “A simple app to scan UPCs [barcodes] and match them with torrent files.”
Think about that for a second. This app uses the phone’s camera to capture a barcode, matches that with torrents from major trackers, then uploads the torrent file to the user’s server. So you’re strolling around, see a DVD, scan the barcode, and by the time you get home, you have a copy ready for watching. It’s pirate magic!
A very similar app – BarTor – has already appeared on Android Marketplace, the equivalent of the App Store. There a demo on Youtube (it used to be called ScanTorrent).
Could we see an app like this for this iPhone?
If you’re thinking that there’s any chance a direct port of either of these apps will appear for the iPhone on the App Store, then you must not have received the memo… This specific app would never make it to the iPhone via the App Store. It would enable copyright enfringement, and damage Apple’s relationship with the media companies that sell their content through the iTunes.
But something similar could be written that would be much more likely to get through the approval process. I can see an app that scans a barcode, looks it up on Amazon and purchases it. You still get to walk around a physical store, but get the benefit of buying at internet prices. Or perhaps an apps that helps you with automatically cataloguing your own collection of DVDs, similar to Delicious Library for the Mac. Andy reviewed myMovies for the iPhone last month, which would be perfect if the app could scan the DVD, avoiding manual entry. Barcode scanning would also enable iPhone apps to perhaps act as mobile terminals for shops. Apple itself moving to use iPhone OS devices at point-of-sale; barcode scanning would make things far easier in this respect.
Scanning a 2d Barcode
Ideally, if an app could recognise a 2d (UPC) barcode, then the iPhone would be an ideal handheld scanner, with all sorts of uses. But is the camera good enough? I’m not really sure. On the one hand, Will Shipley of aforementioned Delicious Monster, posted in responses to a user query on Get Statisfaction, that:
…the iPhone 2.0 SDK doesn’t allow us access to the video camera, so I can’t implement my video barcode scanner. I *may* be able to get something working with still images, but the iPhone camera also does not focus, and the iPhone doesn’t have AltiVec or SSE3 like we use to process blurry barcodes on Macs.
Hope this helps your thinking, would love to have a barcode reader for the iphone, I
think it has great potential.
On the other hand, there’s this YouTube video showing barcode scanning with the iPhone. I also received this comment:
re – TorrentDroid…I’ve used my 1st gen iphone camera successfully for OCR in the field (dingy engine rooms on oil tankers) then transfer to PC (Abby Finereader) – its the OCR engine that needs to be trained for requirements – albeit DVD box bar codes will be small.
So it seems barcode scanning may be possible, but no-one’s cracked it yet. I think the main problem’s the camera on the iPhone, which has a fixed focus. The T-Mobile G1 has an adjustable auto-focus lens, producing clearer photos, thereby losing less information that has to be reconstituted in software. What’s really important in decoding barcodes is image deconvolution – turning a fuzzy image into something readable. The better image to begin with, the less deconvolution is needed. No-one’s managed to write a deconvolution algorithm yet for the iPhone camera. Perhaps a better iPhone camera in June will improve this situation.
An alternative approach
It doesn’t work for everything – e.g. SnapTell only works for a CD, DVD, book, or video game and, it’s for US products only (at the moment). But it’s a clever way of capturing a slice of the market, and a handy service for iPhone-toting shoopers.
As good as these apps are, hopefully the new iPhone in June will come with a better camera which enables barcode scanning apps.
Oh, and did you know your iPhone already contains a hidden barcode…?