QR codes (or quick response codes) are two-dimensional barcodes that can contain numeric text, alphanumeric text, binary or kanji and that often feature URLs that direct users to a website. To use a QR code, you have to scan the code using a device equipped with a QR scanning application. QR codes were first designed for use in the automotive industry to track parts in vehicle manufacturing. Even though they’ve been around since the mid-90’s they’ve recently gained popularity in other industries such as entertainment and transport ticketing, product marketing and in-store product labeling.
The size and complexity of the QR code is directly proportional to how much data the code needs to store. There are many code generators available online to make basic QR codes. You can also make custom designed QR codes since they can be heavily manipulated and still maintain their scan-ability. Thanks to built-in error correction, up to 30% of the code can be missing or obstructed and still be scanned. This means codes don’t have to have the checkerbox appearance that we’re used to seeing. You can round the corners, add in your own logo, use multiple colors, textures and subtle gradients to enrich the design of your QR code. The downside to a heavily designed code is that, just like with a website, you need to test the code on several different QR scanners to ensure that it is scannable.
There are some other services that have come about that are in direct competition with QR codes such as Google Goggles, Microsoft Tag, and Near Field Communication. Google Goggles is an image recognition app that conducts searches based on images that you capture with your phone or other device. Microsoft Tags are similar to QR codes but you need Microsoft’s Tag Reader (which can read QR codes, Microsoft Tags and works with Near Field Communication touchpoints). Microsoft also offers free reporting for their tags which allow you to track the performance of the tag. Near Field Communication allows phones and other devices to establish radio communication with each other by being in close proximity to one another. In advertising it is usually paired with a QR code for phones that don’t have NFC capabilities.
With competing 2D codes, image recognition and near field communication will QR codes continue to be relevant? For now, I think so. There are advantages to using QR codes versus other 2D codes or image recognition apps:
1. With QR codes you are in control over where the code takes your user. Google Goggles shows a list of related results based on the content it can grab from the image you take. So the user has the option of selecting from this list which result they’d like to view.
2. Microsoft Tags are nice but you need their special reader to scan them.
3. Near Field Communication is the future but not all phones are capable, including the iPhone (although macrumors.com says Apple may have a NFC-enabled iPhone in 2012).
So for now, I think QR codes are probably the best 2D barcode option but I predict we’ll quickly be leaving all 2D barcodes behind once more phones are equipped with Near Field Communication technology.
Check out these really great, creative uses of QR codes for inspiration: