They came in the mail, thousands upon thousands. And Portland businesses have obediently applied them to their windows: white stickers, the size of a pulp novel, with the distinctive red pinpoint icon of Google Maps.
The stickers advertise one of the Internet giant's newest services-, Google Places. Portland is the first test city for Places, which is like an online Yellow Pages that's updated by users and is free (for now) to businesses that want a listing.
What most passersby—and some retailers—don't know is that the Google stickers contain a tiny chip that can send a signal to the latest smartphones. It's the same technology used in new U.S. passports and by farmers for "electronic sheep identification."
Google and other corporations are investing heavily in this technology, known as radio-frequency identification or RFID, which they bill as the future of commerce. The Google stickers can be activated by the company's new Nexus S Android phones; the iPhone 5 and other next-generation smartphones should also work.
WW tested a sticker with a Nexus phone. Tapping the phone to the sticker made the screen flash with the appropriate Google Places page.