Samsung talked up the Galaxy S 4’s features with a bit of Broadway flair here at Radio City Music Hall, but there still are some neat additions to the device that didn’t get a moment in the spotlight. The Korean electronics giant, for instance, tapped a San Francisco company called Mobeam to bring its novel approach to displaying barcodes to the Galaxy S 4.
Rather than sticking to the tried and not-so-true approach of trying to display a barcode on a phone’s screen, Mobeam coaxes the device’s infrared proximity sensor to pulse a pattern at a barcode scanner. Essentially, it’s trying to trick the scanner into thinking that the light flashing at it is a “reflection” of a valid barcode — it sounds a little out there, but it definitely seems to work. The problem may sound trivial to some, but that’s certainly not the case for companies and advertisers that want a more direct way to interact with consumers.
We’ve seen more than a few startups attempt to tackle this issue — there’s Disrupt Battlefield alumnus SnipSnap for one, while devices like the ambitious iCache Geode tried to solve the issue with a secondary display — but Mobeam’s solution strikes me as one of the smarter ways to do it. After all, why deal with paper coupons and gift cards that come in the mail (that often expire and get thrown out anyway) when a company like, say, Coca-Cola can cut out the middleman and send you retail-friendly deals directly. You get a price break, retailers don’t need to revamp their point of sales systems, and Coca Cola makes a sale.
According to Mobeam CEO Chris Sellers, the company has been working out the particulars of this partnership with Samsung for around 18 months. It’s the first time that the Mobeam has locked up a partnership with handset manufacturer, but they’re no stranger to attention from major companies — in late 2011 Procter and Gamble teamed with Mobeam in a bid to better distribute digital coupons. With any luck, the Galaxy S 4 won’t be the last device to benefit from Mobeam’s tech, as Sellers told TechCrunch that Mobeam has been in talks with a number of major handset OEMs.
At this stage, there don’t seem to be any applications on the Galaxy S 4 that take advantage of Mobeam’s tech. It’s there for curious developers and companies to muck around with, but one has to wonder if Samsung has something specific planned. Back at Mobile World Congress, Samsung officially pulled back the curtain on Samsung Wallet, a Passbook clone of sorts that lets users digitally store “coupons, membership cards, tickets, and boarding passes” — all things that a device like that S 4 could pass it self off as thanks to Mobeam. Sellers wouldn’t confirm that Samsung planned to tap into Mobeam’s API for Wallet, but if Samsung is really looking for a way to beat Apple and Passbook, this may well be it.