You may have seen these recently in various places, you may have heard people talking about them in the realm of mobile and wondered what the heck they are. Quick response codes (known as “QR” codes) are a very convenient way to display a small bit of information that is easily scanned and processed typically by mobile devices. Allowing physical items to almost become interactive, by providing information that is easily scanned like a website URL.
To make a simpler analogy, most people are familiar with Universal Product codes (known as UPC codes). Everything you buy at the grocery store (and almost any store these days) has one of those that the cashier will scan. The computer then immediately knows what the product is based on the code that it picked up.
Does anyone remember the days of grocery shopping and the cashier had to punch in the prices and codes for every single item you purchased. They had to memorize most of these in their head and if they forgot? They had to pickup the loud phone, make an announcement in the store asking for someone in that department to help them out.
Think of QR codes as UPC codes but instead they’re used in a much broader spectrum, not just to ‘identify’ products but to convey ‘information’ of some kind.
Basic QR Code Usage
The most basic (and popular use) of QR codes is to display website information (a website address). Lets say you’re at a trade show and you’re walking by my booth. You want to find out more information about my company, so you open up your phone and start fumbling away trying to type in some long URL (that is on my display) into your browser, and off you go.
The other option would be for me to display a QR code (on my display), you take your phone and scan it just like cashiers scan items at the grocery store, and your phone automatically starts loading my website, how is that for convenience?
What about billboards outside on the street, or bus shelters while waiting for public transportation. You can place these little codes anywhere. People with free scanners on their phones (iPhones, BlackBerrys, Androids, Nokia, etc.) can quickly scan the QR code and find out more information, like opening up a website.
Whole Foods Market (popular in the US/Canada) uses these in their stores. I was recently sitting down to have a bite to eat at the one in Yorkville Toronto, and on the table where I was sitting was a table tent with two QR codes.
It was obvious where they would take me if I scanned them, one would take me to their twitter account, the other would take me to their facebook page.
If I was interested in checking out their twitter or facebook page, rather than opening up each respective app and going to the search function and typing in their name etc. (I likely wouldn’t, too much effort) I could pick up my phone, scan the QR code and automatically open each page!
You can find a lot of examples of QR codes online, here are a few more:
Airline Boarding Pass
This is an interesting one because you use your mobile to display the QR code rather than scan it. :)
In this case, the airline sends you a QR code that you display on the screen of your phone. This allows the airline while at the airport to scan your unique QR code which represents your passenger information (your digital boarding pass).
A lot of vineyards are placing QR codes on their bottle labels. When you’re out and try a bottle you like, you want to find out more information, or browsing in a wine shop, you may want more information. So rather than writing a long URL out (which most people aren’t going to go type in for lack of convenience), you can scan the bottle just like the cashier will. The only difference is your QR code scan is to give you more information on the wine/vineyard (sales stuff), and the UPC scan is to identify the item in stock and figure out how much of your money to take.
These QR codes are all over the place in Asia, and they’re becoming more and more common in Europe and North America. Just walk around and you’ll start noticing these things.
Just the other day while doing a keynote presentation at a local college on social media, there was a big banner up for birth control, HUGE banner. At the bottom of the banner was a ….. you guessed it, QR code:
Anyone with a QR scanner on their phone could quickly scan that QR code at the bottom and be on their website in a second or two.
What They’re NOT For
I’ve seen people put QR codes on their website and quite frankly that just defeats the purpose and nobody will ever scan it. The point is to take people from the physical world to the online world. If someone is already browsing your website, facebook page, twitter, some online ‘property’, they’re already there. If I’m on my phone, I can exactly scan my screen of my phone with my phones camera now can I?
QR Code Generation
Creating your own QR code could not be any easier. There are countless websites online that allow you to easily generate a QR code image. You take the image they give you and print it on whatever you want, place it wherever you want, it’s a ‘label’ so to speak. Here is one to get you started:
Though typically QR codes identify URLs you can essentially represent any piece of information you like, here are some examples:
- Website URL
- Send a text message
- Send an email message
- Address Book record (vcard)
- Display some text on your screen
- Any bit of text you like
What determines the success of what you put there is how it’s read and consumed. So that means the scanner has to know what to do with the ‘text’ it reveals after scanning the QR code. So almost every scanner I’m aware of knows what a url is and will open it for you. Most will allow you to ‘start’ a text message (it will not create/send one for you). But when get into more complicated (not as popular) usage, they won’t always work.
I have an app on my iPhone that does not handle address book entries, while the other one does. So even though you can represent many things with a QR code, it’s ultimately up to the scanner to understand what to do with the text and that is why the URL is the most popular, as it’s the most widely used and supported by all QR code scanners.
Got an iPhone? Try these free scanners (just two I’ve tried)
Have you tried any yourself on your mobile? Do you have any recommended scanner apps for iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry (any phone for that matter)? Please post in the comments below, let us know some good apps for other devices, or maybe you’ve found better iPhone apps then the two I’ve used.
Filed Under: Howto