Unless you’ve been doing missionary work in a remote jungle in Borneo for the last five years, you’ve seen a QR code before. They’re those inscrutable, black-and-white patchwork blocks that look like a crossword puzzle ( See the image on the left. It’s QR Code for Goospoos.com) often spotted at bus stops, in subway stations, and on promotional fliers. But what are QR codes and what are they for? Let’s start off with some basic background information. The “QR” in QR code stands for “Quick Response”. It’s a matrix barcode comprised of a grid of squares that encodes text information that can be quickly decoded later with the use of QR scanning software. Originally developed by a branch of the Toyota Corporation in 1994 to track automobile parts, the standard was quickly adopted by other companies for tracking and inventory management purposes. Nowadays, both advertisers and consumers use QR codes for a wide variety of purposes.
That’s QR Code basics. Further in this article I’ll cover uses of QR Codes, web apps for generating QR code and most importantly, QR code reader apps for Android and iPhone.
QR Code Uses
Different people use QR codes differently, but it’s all a variation on the same basic theme. Since they’re simply a way to encode text information into a graphical representation, a QR code can translate into whatever the creator desires. They can be used to send people to a particular URL on the web as part of a marketing campaign. Or they can encode an E-mail address or Google Maps directions that users can load on their computer or mobile device. Another common application is the use of QR codes to allow people to download vCard contact information to the address book on their mobile device, much like a digital business card. In other words, the number of uses for QR codes in everyday life for practical purposes is virtually endless and is limited only by your imagination. The best thing about QR codes is that they’re easy to make and read with the help of widely available software online.
Generating QR Codes
There are dozens of web-based applications that allow the average user to make their own QR codes online to share with others. Here are two superb programs to get started. The first is BeQRious, a free code generator you can access by going right to their website. BeQRious allows you to encode text, SMS messages, website URLs, E-mail addresses, contact information, Google maps, and more without costing a penny. It even allows you to insert images into a QR code. Upload your image, and it’s converted to a 50×50 pixel thumbnail which you can save in either PDF or PNG format.
Another nifty application is Maestro, brought to you by the fine people at SPARQCode. It features many of the same capabilities as BeQRious, with a few extras thrown in for good measure. For instance, you can also save calendar events via vCal, as well as a wide variety of contact information for Blackberry’s various services. To use it, just visit the site, enter your information in their easy to use generator, and you’ll have a QR code you can save and share instantly. There are many additional QR code generators available for free online with much the same functionality. If you’re into open source software, be sure to look at the ZXing Project.
Mobile QR Code Applications
In order to read QR codes, you’ll need a scanner and translation program on your smart phone to decode them. There are a number of handy apps you can download directly to your iPhone that can read and generate QR codes quickly and easily. One such application is known simply as Barcode, a free program found on the iTunes Store which supports the QR code and Datamatrix formats. A no-frills app, Barcode does what it sets out to do without making a big production. If you just need to scan and read QR codes on the fly, this is the app for you.
A more powerful and full-featured QR code application for the iPhone is Optiscan from Airsource. It costs $1.99 from iTunes, but it’s well worth it. Optiscan claims to be the fastest QR code reader around, and field tests seem to confirm this. One of the things that differentiates Optiscan from the rest of the pack is its ability to save and index your scanned QR codes for later referral. That way, you don’t have to keep scanning QR codes over and over again to look up information you’ve already entered.
Of course, the Android Marketplace also has a number of equally capable QR readers if you don’t use the iOS platform. Possibly the most popular application is QR Droid, a highly integrated program that allows you to share your codes in a myriad of ways. With QR droid, you can quickly create codes on your phone and then decide which of your contacts you’d like to share it with. It allows you to save all your codes directly to a microSD card, post them to your Social Media accounts, or E-mail them out en masse. One of the most highly rated free applications for Android, this one’s a no-brainer.
If that’s not to your liking, you can also use the Scanlife Barcode Reader. A QR code reader and a regular UPC barcode scanner all in one, Scanlife is available free of charge and has been downloaded by millions already. As far as QR code readers go, it’s your run-of-the-mill application. But the barcode reader allows you to scan any product’s UPC in the store and launch applications for price comparison, reviews, and more. It also supports the Datamatrix and Ezcode standards, making it one of the most versatile scanning applications on either the iOS or Android platforms.
QR codes aren’t going anywhere any time soon and are bound to become even more popular in the future as smart phones and ultra-portable devices become more prevalent around the world. That’s not particularly surprising, given that they’re a quick, painless and hassle-free way to transmit detailed information with the touch of a button. Now you know how they work, and how you can use them. Once you start using QR codes regularly, you’ll gain a fuller appreciation of how they can save you time and money throughout your day and enrich your digital life in the real world.