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Mesa Dynamics, LLC

Release Date: 

May 14, 2009





Editor Rating 

IMG_0140This. App. Is. Brilliant.

Apps like CardStar by Mesa Dynamics are the reason so many people are enamored with the iPhone. The iPhone brought stunning technology to the masses, with its easily manipulated touch interface and Internet portability, with its laptop functionalities condensed into one tiny package of shiny black and chrome lined beauty. CardStar takes advantage of this stunning technology by taking a simple, functional, and convenient idea and transforming it into an app that is sure to turn heads, and bug eyes, with a slightly quizzical expression as your friends think, “that’s such a great idea.”

IMG_0142As I mentioned when reviewing Cellfire, coupons and discounts and redeemable values are really making a comeback in the lives of many harried and low-salaried people who are trying to survive in this seemingly ongoing stretch of bad financial tidings. Cellfire offers a few standard coupons at a time, offering them as “deals” you may only view a select amount of times, and only sponsors coupons from a few businesses; when going through checkout at a store, you show the coupon code to your cashier so he may record the number manually from your phone.

CardStar completely extends this capability by having a collection of hundreds of different merchants – with the ability to customize a merchant should it not be present – and, mind-boggingly, the ability to scan the barcode from your iPhone. In addition, CardStar isn’t limited to coupons, but includes membership or access codes that you may customize into the system. Being a member of Planet Granite in San Francisco, rather than toting along my membership card, I can input my membership code on CardStar and then just scan myself in using the iPhone, undoubtedly to be met with stunned silence followed by applause all around, I’m sure. Now, you may ponder, “What about the barcode?” Funny you ask that. CardStar includes a “Symbology” technology that has you select a start and stop code for your barcode, and then CardStar will generate the correct barcode for you.

IMG_0144When entering in cards simply tap the plus symbol on the upper right hand side of the first page – CardStar will prompt you to do this. Under the Basic setting, you simply select a merchant and then enter in your membership number below, and voila, instant scannable barcode for you to expertly and deftly, like some CIA agent, use in your daily tasks. The Merchants available are categorized as drug stores, entertainment, grocery, gym, library, retail, or travel, and each category contains, on average, 10 choices. Under Grocery there are familiar chain names like Albertons, Costco, Safeway, BevMo, Win-Dixie and City Market, but also other unknowns to me like Cost Cutter, Dominick’s, Food Lion, Haggen, and IGA. Cardstar, unfortunately, does not include Whole Foods or Lucky’s or Mollie Stone’s in its repertoire, three fairly large supermarkets as of late, but you can add these in manually with the Advanced tab setting, and selecting “Other” under Merchants. I was also surprised – perhaps simply because it’s especially populous in the Bay Area – to see that 24 Hour Fitness was not an option in the Gym category. The category contains Bally Total Fitness, Fitness First, Healthtrax, and Planet Fitness, the latter three of which I’ve never heard before. Even the Retail tab lacks a few prominent American stores, such as WalMart, and Target, but includes that gaudy teenage shop Wet Seal often tacked in strip malls. However, seeing that REI was included in this category, and that JetBlue and several other airlines were included so that you may scan your boarding pass through your phone more than made up for the other deficiencies.

IMG_0139At first, making a personalized card is a bit confusing. When selecting the type of symbology – defined as a “machine-readable representation of data” – for your barcode, there is a selection of (Auto), Codabar, Code 39, Code 128, EAN 13, EAN 128, UPCA, and N/A (not applicable). All of these meant absolute gibberish to me and I was forced to research each of these functions. Turns out each one is a specific barcode symbology that caters to a specific function; Code 128, for example, is usually used for large freight shipping and packaging or other postal functions, while EAN 128 includes the use of Code 128 but formats the data in a specified way to include FNC1 constructions. UPCA stands for Universal Product Code and is predominately used in the United States and Canada for trade sells in large retailers.

Most likely you’ll be using the “Codabar” feature, which uses an algorithm based on alphanumeric characters, and their corresponding patterns, bars, and spaces. When creating the symbology for my Mills College Student ID, I manually entered the numbers listed under the card’s barcode, and then I had the option of selecting the Start and Stop codes, of which there are the same four: A, B, C, or D. Each letter was represented by a different pattern array of bars, which you essentially eyeball to match up with the existing start and end patterns of your barcode. The technology is surprisingly accurate; after creating my digitized ID, I made sure the end result matched with the original barcode, and it did. I was able to easily wave this in front of Mills College’s super cool card detection devices, and grant myself access to the Library and computer labs. I repeated this same card creation ability with my San Francisco Public Library card and will attempt to use it anytime I visit the library.

Despite CardStar lacking a few prominent merchants, I feel the customizable option more than compensates for this, and almost renders the category listings as unnecessary (although they do make inputting information quicker). Now instead of clogging my wallet with so many cards I can file them away in a neat little forgotten box and save their barcodes on my iPhone. Not only will this save me plenty of space, and better organize myself, but it will give me the childish satisfaction of having a futuristic idea in the palm of my hand, ready to impress, but ready to finally make a common appearance in day to day life.



  1. Wondering how libraries feel about this. They worry about patrons losing their cards and many people accessing their personal information at the library. with a library card in hand, you can pick up books, and sometimes get library account personal information. Many libraries require patrons to have physical cards to check out items to protect their information (privacy is highly valued in libraries – a basic value.) Using a library card facsimile can run afoul of library privacy protections. Libraries may choose to refuse patrons that use CardStar and its like — which sucks for everyone (libraries just want to help, not hinder.)

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  2. You bring up an interesting point Librarygeek. I would think it would be more likely for people to lose their library cards instead of their cell phones but have noticed instances of people losing cell phones with increasing frequency in recent months.

    It might be a good idea for Cardstar to include a security feature such as a master password for the entire app or a password for specific cards. I just tried using their Advanced option and it does not have any security options either. The inverted option is cool to invert the bar code.

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  3. Thanks for the excellent point Librarygeek. In regards to having a physical library card for privacy reasons, I cannot help but remember that every time I’ve used Sonoma County libraries or the San Francisco Public Library, they have never checked my I.D, making me wonder just how concerned they are with privacy over simply having people use the public library. I used my mother’s card in high school, even afterward, and I’ve had people use my college I.D (when missing) to access the campus’ computer labs, since it’s all automated with a wave of the barcode.

    I plan on still using my library card, because I enjoy representing my local public library – and have for many years – but it’s nice to know if I ever lose mine, or forget it, I can still use Cardstar.

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  4. “Even the Retail tab lacks a few prominent American stores, such as WalMart, and Target”

    Walmart and Target don’t have loyalty card programs so there would be no need for them to be listed.

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  5. Good observation Josh.

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  6. REad their fine print. I am very concerned about privacy and from their website it looks like they collect data. They should be more upfront about why app is free. Would like use a pay version to protect privacy.

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  7. Not sure what you mean about fine print? their FAQ amkes it clear they dont collect personal data. Great app, btw.

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  8. My library at Clifton park NY declined to accept cardmaster in lieu of the papercard. They claim that i may have someone else’s number stored on my cell, which doesn’t make much sense to me since they allow using someone else’s paper card to borrow items (e.g., my wife’s).

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