Almost everyone is familiar with barcodes ...

... the set of lines and numbers that you see on almost all consumer products.  For most of us, the only way we really relate to them is that they speed up the process of checking out our purchases from a grocery store or other retailer.

barcode from a book

In the past few years, a new type of code, often intended to be directly useful to consumers, has appeared in the marketplace. It's the code that you see at the top and left of this website.  It's what is known as a "QR code." Other names you may hear for the technology are quick response code or quick read code or two-dimensional (2D) code or square code. QR codes are a way of connecting something in print to an electronic device.

It's a variation on the old barcode, but whereas the barcode was intended to be scanned in a line, the QR code is designed to have its area scanned. Also unlike barcodes, which require access to a database of codes and code descriptions in order to produce a meaningful result, QR codes normally store most pertinent data in the block of code itself.



So, what good is this to ME?

Consumer products companies and publishers now use the codes to reach customers with camera-equipped smartphones like the iPhone, Google Android-powered phones, Blackberries and others.

QR codes may store:

simple text

website URLs

telephone numbers

map locations

complete contact information

event information

Paypal links

information to allow a user to quickly sign onto a wifi network

direct links to apps in their respective online markets.


OK, I want to take advantage of QR Codes. How do I go about this?

First of all, you'll need a camera-equipped phone that can run a scanning app. For the most part, this means smartphones like those from Blackberry, the Apple iPhones, or most Google Android-powered phones (like those from Motorola, HTC, Samsung, etc.) If you don't already have a smartphone and are considering one, check with your phone vendor to make sure that the phone you might select is scanning capable.

Once you have the right phone, you'll need a scanning app. Some phones will come with such an app already installed. For others, you will need to go to the phone's app market and download the program. Many of these scanner apps are free.


Here's a partial list of code scanning apps for smartphones

Blackberry APP World: QR Code Scanner, ScanLife Barcode Reader, CertainTeed QR Code Reader, Code Muncher, AT&T Code Scanner

iPhone App Store: Bakodo, CodeZone, RedLaser

Android App Market: Barcode Scanner, QR Droid, Shop Savvy Barcode Reader, BlazerFish QR, ScanLife

Microsoft Phone 7: PhraseMeme Scanner, QR Reader, Stripes

In addition to dedicated scanning apps, other smartphone apps may include code scanning as part of the app's functionality. ShopSavvy Code Reader can scan either QR codes or barcodes, Amazon's Android app can only scan UPC-type barcodes.


You may also want to create your own QR codes ...

... perhaps a long URL that you want to save your customer the hassle of keying in. Or maybe a map location for a party so your smartphone-carrying friends can show up at the right place.  (Heaven help the ones that don't have smartphones. But, they should get one. Right?) An excellent application of a consumer-created QR code would be business cards that include contact information in the code on the front or back.


QR code generators

qwiQR, ZXing, JumpScan, QRStuff, among others


Additional scan code formats

Microsoft Tag