SonicNotify: The inaudible QR codes your smartphone can hear
February 8, 2012
A new startup called SonicNotify has developed a technology that will enable smartphone apps to receive data via high frequency sound inaudible to the human ear. Though limited, the signals would be sufficient to transmit, say, a web address that could be automatically opened by your smartphone. These frequencies could be embedded into any audio being played through a speaker, and provide contextual information to the user. So, museums and art galleries could effectively transmit detailed information on their exhibits via their apparently silent PA systems. The cliche applies, I'm afraid: the possibilities are unending.
Other applications spring irresistibly to mind. At a rock concert, your phone might automatically load a web page with additional information such as a set lists or lyrics to the current song being performed. In fact, SonicNotify are producing disposable speakers (or "notifiers") for just such events. Talk radio shows could broadcast a signal leading users to a contact page where they can unload their Earth-moving insights. Your ideas for possible applications of the technology are doubtless better.
If you're familiar with QR codes, you will not have failed to spot the similarity. But QR codes have drawbacks which SonicNotify deftly sidesteps. There's no need to see the code (in fact, a visual medium isn't required), and there's no need to point your camera at anything, or faff about with photographs and QR code readers. SonicNotify's technology is as simple as launching the app.
Those interested can give the technology a test drive by downloading a free app, Sonic Experiences, for either iPhone or Android, and navigating to the demos section of the SonicNotify website. By playing the videos embedded on the demos page while the app was running on my smartphone, I was able to view additional content on my phone having done nothing more than launch the app. Okay so the demo content may not be all that compelling, but that isn't the point. That it works, is. Handily, the app seems to queue up a list of content you're accessing as it listens, rather than replacing the last piece of bonus material with that which it's currently hearing, so users shouldn't miss out on information - provided apps that eventually use this technology handle data the same way, that is.
The technology is set to be given a more vigorous heave-ho at next week's New York Fashion Week, where smartphone-wielders will be able to view photos of models and outfits on their devices. It may sound odd to attend a live event only to look at still photos of the models and outfits on a small screen instead of the infinite splendor of real world 3D, but it might be handy to review outfits once models have left the catwalk. Because different speakers can transmit different frequencies, one's location in a venue could conceivably affect which information is accessible - reverse angle replays at sports venues spring to mind.
Hopefully the greater ease which SonicNotify can present users with information will inspire more imaginative uses than those to which the QR code is typically put. The few occasions when I have reached for the QR reader have generally resulted in my inadvertently succumbing to an opportunity to be advertised at. Without imagination, this may merely provide yet another imperative for us to watch screens.