Amidst the new hardware and software inside Samsung's new Galaxy S4 is one feature that emulates some decidedly old-school technology: the bar code. Thanks to "light-based communications" technology from a company called Mobeam, the Galaxy S4 uses pulses of infrared light to essentially fool traditional scanners into thinking the light represents a barocde. While the utility of such a feature might feel limited at first, Mobeam is convinced its technology will help smartphones interact with the millions of point-of-sale systems around the country that use traditional barcode scanners. At its core, it seem Mobeam is just the latest in a long line of attempts to make smartphones useful at the cash register — with NFC-based payment systems not exactly widespread, alternate tools like Apple's Passbook and now Mobeam are getting more of a shot.
The real draw for Mobeam over something like Passbook is the fact that no new equipment is needed — the Galaxy S4 will be able to beam coupons, tickets, or anything else with a barcode to the estimated 165 million standard scanners around the world. As for where users will get these barcodes, Mobeam partnered with Proctor and Gamble to jointly develop a mobile coupon system, and the Mobeam API will be available to developers shortly after launch. Once it is, anyone wil be able to create Mobeam-enabled apps. It's hard to say whether this has a chance at catching on — but launching on the Galaxy S4 certainly won't hurt Mobeam's chances at adoption.