Microsoft spends billions of dollars each year on research and development, but it got its for the price of a couple weeks of Starbucks coffee.
Microsoft just released its second iPhone application, Tag, and it looks like a winner. Tag lets you create your own bar code and then allows other users to "scan" it with their iPhones, accessing whatever information you may want them to see: your contact information, advertisements, and more. I'm thinking of putting one on my business cards.
Tag didn't start out as an iPhone application, however. You can also use the service with Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Symbian, and J2ME phones, and for good reason: Tag was developed well before the iPhone hit the market. Back then, it was just a rumor.
I was talking with a colleague last night who used to work at Razorfish in San Francisco, now owned by Microsoft. Razorfish ran a competition back in 2006 for cutting-edge mobile applications, and Tag, developed by two consultants in Razorfish's San Francisco office, won the competition.
The grand prize? A $50 Starbucks gift certificate. As my colleague tells it, his friends "spent more than (the prize money) in Jolt Cola and Cheezy Poofs while they were coding to get it done in time": the humble beginnings of innovation.
Whatever the origin, however, Tag looks like a great use of mobile technology, and it is an indication that Microsoft can still innovate or, as in this case, can still discover others' innovations and release them under its brand. That's a talent, too.