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German based price search engine smart.apnoti.com has just launched a new barcode scanning iPhone app, iBarcode.
The app (iTunes link) can deal with a range of barcodes (UPC8, UPC12, EAN and ISBN), which are commonly found on the packaging of consumer electricals, books, and DVDs. I've been seeing if it works...
The app compares prices for the US, UK, Germany and France though you need to change your preferred market in the settings section, otherwise it defaults to Germany.
You can either search by keyword, or use the iPhone camera (this works on all iPhones) to scan the barcode and return matching product results:
You then need to hover the phone over the barcode, until it is lined up with the arrows on screen, which can be a fiddly job:
Once this has been done, matching results from a range of retailers so you can compare prices for the item:
The problem with the search results for me is that prices were shown in Euros, despite my having set the UK as the preferred country, and the names or logos of retailers are not shown next to results, which makes it harder to decide which result to click on.
Clicking on the link takes you to the retailers' product page, and most I tried were desktop pages, which makes it less likely that a customer will make a purchase straight from the phone. This happens even for retailer like Amazon that have mobile-optimised sites:
The app displays a beta logo, and this may explain some of the errors I came across when using the app. All the keyword searches I tried, including 'iPod' which should return loads of results, produced this screen:
I'm not sure that an app should be in beta when it is released, especially when you are charging users to download it. If people get the app and try it, and find it doesn't work so well, then this means that many will not use it again, and may leave negative reviews, deterring others from using it.
I think that shopping comparison services are potentially very useful for mobiles, and anything that avoids the need for users to spend time typing in product details is an improvement.
Barcode scanners are one thing that makes it easier to quickly find price comparisons, though I found the camera functions on both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble apps, which allow you to find matching products by taking a picture if a DVD cover or book, easier to use, though this may be easier on an iPhone 3GS.
The price is another issue here. OK, 59p for the app isn't going to break the bank, but if you are looking to earn commissions through price comparison, it makes sense to get as many users as possible. Charging a fee, however small, will mean fewer users.
It is a potentially useful app, but the various bugs / faults need to be ironed out first, while I think the company needs to think about making it free in order to attract more users.
UPDATE: Wolfram from Apnoti tells me that a couple of the issues I mentioned in the review are, the prices displaying in Euros, and keyword search not working, were the result of a UK server issue. I tried the app again, and these two problems have been fixed now.
I also asked why there is a 59p price tag on the app:
With iBARCODE we don't just query the API from Google Shopping or any other provider but we query product prices on demand from all relevant merchants directly and in the moment when the user starts the price search.
By doing it this way, we ensure that prices are most accurate and up-to-date and consumers can make the right purchase decision. Due to the fact that we have immense server costs to enable price requests in real-time we made the decision to make it a paid app.