RedLaser, a barcode scanner for your iPhone, seems like a great idea in principle, but it practice, its uses are far and few.
What Occipital, the developer of RedLaser, intends is for you to be able to take a snapshot of a barcode, upload the image to a database where the captured barcode is deciphered and returned to you as a list of item descriptions and prices.
If this sounds familiar to you, you may be thinking of SnapTell Explorer, which I reviewed a while back. Use SnapTell and your iPhone to photograph a book cover, and within minutes you’ll receive a description of the book’s contents and a list of places online where you can buy the title and search for more information about it.
RedLaser, as does SnapTell Explorer, uses image-recognition technology to identify the object you’ve just taken a picture of. Both companies maintain a database of images and is able to match up the picture you’ve taken with one in its database.
The difference is that it’s a lot easier to run image-recognition software against a book cover compared to the much smaller barcode.
I found with RedLaser that it was vital that you hold the iPhone steadier than a flat rock, in broad daylight and at the precisely the right distance —10 inches to 12 inches — from the barcode to have even the slightest chance of any of this actually working. In my case, that turned out to be something like 1 in every 10 attempts.
RedLaser supports UPC and EAN barcodes, which are the most common formats, but for the moment, RedLaser will return prices secreted in barcodes for the U.S .and U.K. markets. Occipital says it works best with standard-sized barcodes. The smaller ones are too difficult to image crisply enough.
To help you determine how to steady, center and shoot barcodes, the developer has put what amounts to three small templates in the camera’s view screen. The biggest problem I encountered was that I had to really hold the camera absolutely (nearly impossibly) steady to have any hope of getting an image sharp enough to decoder.
Like I said, RedLaser sounds much better than it really is. It works, true enough, but that’s just not good enough. The app needs to be more reliable to be truly useful for shopping, which is the reason for photographing bar codes in the first place.