Tag Archives: iPhone

Business Card QR Codes and the Apple vCard Problem

by Harry Tarnoff

You may have heard the buzz on “quick response codes” – QR codes, typically one-inch square barcodes that are appearing on advertisements, coupons, in stores, even on T-shirts and shopping bags. The idea is someone interested in the product, store or event could whip out their cellphone, take a picture of the code and have the phone’s browser instantly bring up their associated web page with more information. Wouldn’t it be nice to do something similar on business cards so that someone can scan a code and have the contact information automatically added to their electronic address book?

As we opened up our new offices in Downtown Los Angeles, we wanted to do exactly this, not only because it would make it easier for the people to whom we gave our business cards to add us to their devices’ contact list, but it would also demonstrate some high-tech capability on an otherwise non-technical piece of paper – perfect for a technology strategy company. Well, it’s good that we know technology because there were a couple of issues along the way, the solutions for which we are more than happy to share.

The vCard and the QR Code

The generally accepted format for a electronic business card is called a “vCard.” It has been around since the mid-1990′s and is supported by all the major email and CRM programs. A vCard file can be attached to an email message or linked on the web. It is a readable text file with fields for names, addresses, phone numbers, and other personalized data.

QR or Quick Response codes represent an improvement over their UPC bar code ancestors because they can reliably carry more information for easy access by a business’ customers. Instead of a series of parallel lines as with UPC bar codes, QR codes are in a two-dimensional matrix with blacked out squares at certain row-column intersections, much like a crossword puzzle. Customers use smartphones to scan these codes to see more information – typically a web page associated with the codes – about whatever it is that these codes are associated with.

Let’s now say you want to put the equivalent of your vCard on your business card as a QR code. It may be a natural thought to simply put all of the vCard information directly into the code. This is not a good idea. Besides the code becoming too detailed and harder to scan, when someone scans it using a typical scanner app, they would get only the vCard text. The vCard information does not get added automatically to the Address Book unless the app itself is aware that the data represents a vCard and adds it to the Address Book itself. Your potential customers lacking an appropriate scanner application could become frustrated.

What you do instead is what the advertisers do, that is put a single web link into the QR code. This approach has wide support and will undoubted work fine. After all, that is the primary purpose of QR codes, to be scanned and take a user to a predefined web address.

The plan, then, is to create a code that takes the user to a web address which has a vCard file. The device’s browser, seeing that the “web page” is a vCard, will download the contact information and allow the user to add it to the Address Book.

The Apple Mobile Device Issue

While this approach works on virtually all desktops, notebooks, and many mobile devices including those based on Android, there is a big snag when it comes to Apple mobile devices. For years, Apple has supported vCards as the only easy way to export Address Book entries.  However, Apple’s mobile device browsers do not support vCard files. If you scan a link to a vCard file, all you get is a “Safari cannot download this file” message. Oops.

While this oversight will most likely eventually be fixed, it is probably not prudent to march forward adding QR codes to business cards and hope that Apple fixes this problem. Some kind of hopefully temporary workaround is in order.

You could email the vCard to the Apple device. The device will then ask the owner to confirm adding the data to the Address Book. The disadvantages to the approach are:

  1. It is not automatic since the user needs to enter an email address on which to receive the vCard
  2. The user has to give up his e-mail address which he or she may not want to do
  3. Emails are not always fast and reliable, so the user is forced to wait and possibly retry

The Solution

Fortunately, we have a much better workaround. It requires an entry in Google Places (or Google Maps) and administrative rights to a website.

Our DataPlex entry with Google Places has a bunch of business-related information and is a fine place to send someone who scans in the QR code from the back of our DataPlex business cards. The solution is to forward someone on an iPhone or iPad to this alternate URL. If you haven’t already, set up your entry in Google Places.

The Technical Part

The key part of the solution is adding a URL rewrite rule. Although the following is for Apache, there is a similar process for Microsoft’s IIS.

Here are the lines to add to the .htaccess-file on the website for the folder that contains the vCard:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} .*Mobile.*Safari
RewriteRule ^(.*)vcard.vcf$ http://maps.google.com/maps/place?hl=en&georestrict=input_srcid:0d6a82b1f62d0d2b

Your technical staff should, of course, change the third line with the “RewriteRule” to link to the proper map reference. If it is not already active, your staff also should enable the mod_rewrite module.

How this works is, when an Apple mobile user snaps a pic of the QR code in some scanner app, that app launches Mobile Safari to bring up that web page. The .htaccess tells the Apache server, when it sees that the “user agent” (browser ID) has contained within it the text strings “Mobile” and “Safari” to redirect the browser to the URL specified in the RewriteRule.

You can continue to use the same QR code pattern and URL but update the information on your website-based vCard and in Google Places without having to necessarily reprint your business cards.

Demonstration

Visually, what happens after the Apple mobile device user snaps the pic of the QR code, is, within seconds, he or she is looking at a Google Maps page for the business. Once there, the user can click on “more info” (the right-facing arrow in the blue circle) and then “Add to Contacts” at the bottom of the page. It is a bit unfortunate that the Add Contacts button, along with those for “Share Location” and “Add to Bookmarks” are off the bottom of the screen so the user would have to scroll down, but most experienced Apple device users would know this.

If you want to see a working demonstration of a working QR code-based vCard link, just scan the QR code below. It has the link to a vCard on the DataPlex website. If you are using an Apple device, you’ll end up in Google Maps as described above. Otherwise, you will be prompted to download the vCard directly into your Address Book or Contact List.

vCard for DataPlex

Barcodes, especially the new matrix codes such as QR, can be wonderful time-savers for businesses, but they have to be implemented smartly. If you would like to upgrade to the latest in barcode technology, let us help in your deployment of an easy-to-use yet robust system.

Better Business Software

Can Business Software be Better?

We have all heard the horror stories regarding business software systems: The tremendously expensive system. The system that didn’t work. The system that couldn’t grow with the business. The provider who wanted $50,000 a module and five modules would be needed. Critical software changes that take weeks or months.

With fast-changing markets, demographics and new regulations, businesses need to be nimble and fast in their reactions. The last thing a business needs is to hampered by expensive and time-consuming system implementations. Hearing about the bad experiences of others’ raises the question, what are the characteristics of good business software?

Thinking from a business owner’s perspective, better business software should:

  • Work reliably and securely
  • Be adjusted to take into account the uniqueness of the business’ operation
  • Come at a cost that doesn’t break the bank
  • Come with easy access to the software’s actual developers for the best possible technical support
  • Be quickly extendible when new features are desired
  • Not be locked in to a specific platform that doesn’t have a bright future or comes with high monthly expenses
  • Maximize connectivity from anywhere using mobile devices

A tall order, right? Not so with us. With DataPlex and AmpUp – our rapid software development tool for business enterprise applications – you get business software that offers modern capabilities that can easily be altered to meet changing needs, possibly giving your business a competitive advantage.

By leveraging AmpUp, you get:

  • A reliable and secure system that take into account the uniqueness of your business’ operation. We start by doing a free assessment of your current operation and then work with you to develop effective new displays and processes.
  • A system at a fraction of the cost of other commercial systems, including those that claim to be “off the shelf.”
  • Easy access and great support. We are the developers, and you have our direct phone numbers. (Email too.)
  • The ability to add new features quickly and at any time. We’re happy to be your technical advisors on anything daunting.
  • A web-based system that can be easily ported to your favorite cost-effective hosting service including those “in the cloud.”
  • Connectivity from Internet-enabled mobile devices whether they be Android-based, Apple, Blackberry, Microsoft or something else.

We introduced AmpUp six months ago because, frankly, we were shocked at what some of our clients were telling us about what they had to put up for systems and support. We didn’t think that a small business needed to spend six figures for a new system, wait six months for their so-called customizations, and then wait weeks for bug fixes which sometimes added even more bugs.

AmpUp logoAmpUp, it turns out, is a software development game-changer. It is a stable “software as a service” or SaaS platform that is shared among many different applications. In four months, we have been able to implement four very sophisticated enterprise systems. That’s one per month. Yes, you read that correctly – you could have one of our completely customized enterprise-wide systems working for you in a surprisingly short amount of time.

Interested? Feel free to drop us a call or note. We look forward to chatting with you soon.

At the Crossroads of Enterprise, Mobile and the Cloud

DataPlex helps you intersect enterprise, mobile and the cloud

Navigate the Intersection of Enterprise, Mobile and the Cloud

As a disruptive phenomenon in the realm of information technology, Cloud Computing is evolving quickly and driving changes both in the personal space and in the corporate world towards a more portable and web-centric infrastructure, particularly in such areas as sales, marketing, customer relations, logistics and fulfillment.

Back in  October 2008, we said “In only a matter of a couple short years, mobile computing with third party applications will become de rigueur, so it would be wise to plan for that eventuality.” It seems we’re on track.

More important than the introduction of the next generation electronic devices such as the latest iPhone and iPad is the prodigious convergence of enterprise IT with mobile computing with cloud-based services. If you missed it, our previous newsletter article “Exploring Cloud Computing” discusses the current state of personal and corporate services being provided over the Internet. It makes cases for when organizations with existing IT structures should explore moving some of their internal and commercial processes over to the cloud.

While one might understand that the cloud is basically a set of remote software services that can be leveraged to reduce the size and cost of in-house IT support, what he or she should also understand is how the growing shift to the cloud is affecting the types of devices and applications we all use.

The Expansiveness of Mobile Computing

Volume 3, Number 5

What Mobile Computing means to Consumers and the Enterprise

The arrival of the next generation of smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone  and the G1 based on Google’s Android technology heralds a new era in mobile computing. But what does this mean to consumers, and how do enterprises leverage these new devices without sacrificing security?

These are good questions, but let me start out by saying what this article is not. This article is not a review or endorsement of either the iPhone or the G1 phone or any other smartphone as there are simply too many features that matter disproportionately to different types of users.  Besides, there are already plenty of reviews on the specific devices.

Instead, this article abstracts the notion of mobile computing and suggests ways it can and will enhance our lives, whether we are consumers checking our email and stock market investments or as members of a business, collaborating with our peers while away from the office. 

iPhone Development

DataPlex plans to offer some if its classic products for the Apple iPhone and iTouch. Over the past twenty years, DataPlex has provided a number of useful applications for mobile computing including Time Tracker, Mileage Logger, To Do List, Query Tool, and Easy Data Manager. While DataPlex’s exact offerings are still under wraps, long-time users of DataPlex DataKeepers (a custom handheld device built by DataPlex in the 1980′s and 1990′s) can expect the same high level of useful features and reliability.