App sniffs out links hidden in the real world

Digimarc's all-in-one app reads digital links in tunes, TV, publications, and packaging.

smartphone reading a watermark in a newspaper
"Hey honey. Did you see this thing in the paper?" Video screenshot by Eric Smalley/CNET

Imagine sweeping your phone around a room and seeing a plethora of information about the pictures, music, and video around you. The Digimarc Discover app lets your phone read QR codes printed on products, identify tunes playing nearby, buy tickets when movies are advertised on a TV playing near you, and follow watermark links hidden in articles and product packaging.

Digital watermark purveyor Digimarc demoed the technology this spring and has now made the free app for iOS and Android available for download. The app falls somewhere between simple bar code readers and augmented-reality apps that recognize real-world objects and link information to them.

Digimarc Discover is the Swiss Army knife of real-world identification. It figures out the most appropriate identifying technologies for a given situation--QR code, watermark, audio and/or video--depending on where you are and how you've used it in the past.

Watermarks, which are invisible to the naked eye, are a big aesthetic improvement over QR codes and bar codes. The downside is you can't tell if there's a watermark in an image, so you may end up holding your phone in front of a magazine or poster and getting no digital love.

The key to Digimarc's scheme is getting publishers and advertisers to use watermarks. The company acknowledges this on the Digimarc Discover page: "There must be widespread encoding of digital watermarks in all forms of media."

Looks like a chicken-and-egg problem. Are businesses going to splash invisible watermarks all over the place on the promise that your phone will be looking for them? Maybe the audio and video components will be enough to get people to download the app and get the ball rolling.

(Via Technology Review)

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