Tech-savy Londoners are using their mobiles for instant design/shopping information. The latest news is QR (Quick Response) codes, like those intricate squares of pixels on Eurostar or BA tickets, which you scan using your mobile phone to find out more about a product before you buy. See QR codes popping up all over town, in shops, printed in newspapers and magazines, and even on estate agents' boards (agent Oliver Pennard has 15 in Shepherd's Bush, for example).
First you have to download a free QR reader - do a simple search to find one. Then you can scan codes on products in the shop with your phone for instant website links with more details. QR codes in Debenhams update shoppers on merchandise, with videos and promotions.
Amusingly, at the recent Royal College of Art degree show, textile designer Thorunn Arnadottir even made a QR code out of African-style beading, on a dress called QR U? This linked to a YouTube clip. Traditionally, grid-like Zulu tribal ornaments deliver simple coded messages. "I am demonstrating the link between old and new communication technologies," she says. And this summer, shops around Carnaby Street sport QR codes in jaunty colours, connecting - at the scan of a phone - to a website with full consumer info.
New phone apps access home design and shopping info anywhere
They are instant, easy and fun. Apple dominates the app market with more than 350,000 available, but BlackBerry has developed its own - and other smartphones are catching up fast using a "platform" called Android. All the apps featured on this page are downloadable from the Apple App Store. They are free unless stated.
Harrods has a new app to help navigate its 11 doors, seven floors and 320 departments. It's like an instore mini satnav - tell it where you want to go, and it plots the route.
Snap a colour on your phone's camera and a Dulux app finds a paint to match, and then creates a scheme around it. Or just choose a colour from the 1,200 on the app. This app has been downloaded 30,000 times already, creating more than 100,000 colour schemes. "We offer free, instant, accurate colour schemes anywhere, anytime," says Martha James of Dulux. Order samples, find the nearest stockist (using GPS) and watch how-to videos.
The Crown Colour Match App offers some similar features (crownpaint.co.uk). The Superfresco Easy app from Graham & Brown is one of the most ambitious. Browse more than 200 wallpaper designs by pattern type and/or colour; calculate quantities/cost, see a design in a room setting and order samples/rolls. "Your mobile will deliver onsite video decorating tips," says Alan Kemp, head of brand marketing.
Get DIY tips and videos from B&Q or browse/buy products at Homebase. Or just find a local qualified tradesman on a new app from Jobsorted.com. Take a photo of your own room and add pictures from Easyart (easyart.com), or furniture from a Debenhams app which lets you shop on the move and also uses GPS for store-finding.
Ikea put its catalogue on an iPhone app two years ago and has modified it twice in response to customer feedback. There's also a new version for iPads.
Kelly Hoppen has created her own video app, with style ideas and merchandise (£2.59). Conran will shortly launch an app for collecting inspiration - you make your own "mood boards" from what you see around you. Free to download for September's 100% Design show is an app with news, interviews and videos.
For companies making apps, the process is lengthy, costly, and can mean inventing new technology. S&M Antiques, for example, has invented a quick new way to search its vast stock. Dulux worked on its app for six weeks and Graham & Brown for three months, using inhouse teams. Now more technology is coming up on the inside, such as NFC (Near Field Communication), says Aresh Amoli, managing director at Inteeka, which is developing technology for estate agents (inteeka.com). "With NFC, you simply touch a tag with your phone - no need even to scan. It's truly instant information, and out there people are avid for it."
Sense and the city
Smart, Connected and on the Move is a major new show just opened at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden (ltmuseum.co.uk). It runs until March 18, 2012 and its vision of our future capital exudes sensational top-tech.
First, an amusing display of past predictions, some that - literally - never got off the ground. Helicopter taxis, anyone? Then see how traditional communications - from land lines, newspapers, catalogues and timetables to advertising and even computers - shrivel into a single smartphone.
Radical ideas for transport from students at the Royal College of Art include a bus with a complete sidescreen of changing data. Six sophisticated touch screens take you through ideas, technologies, and opinions. And finally, tomorrow's bus shelter, fully internet-enabled for mobile phones and tablets, with multi-touch screens, infra red technology, HD cameras, and eye-tracking software. Get instant timetables, traffic/weather info, choose music/videos and - through "virtual reality" - alter ads/posters with a wave of your hand.