June 21, 2011
You may be asking what a QR Code is. Think of it as a high-density barcode, which is something we encounter everywhere in everyday life, on consumer goods, packaging, freight, business forms and even the test tubes from blood samples. Barcodes are used for logistics and inventory tracking and in manufacturing, healthcare, among many others. Because of its simple design, information can be easily scanned and quickly uploaded to a computer or a Point of Sale system.
QR codes, or Quick Response Codes, those little black and white squiggly images cropping up more and more on books, fliers, cereal boxes, bus ads, grocery store display shelves, websites and even billboards, are fairly new to North America but have been in use in Japan for years. They were created by Denso Wave, a Toyota subsidiary, as a solution to the limitation of the maximum of 20 digit barcodes we are all used to.
Toyota needed something that would provide more information so it could more effectively track car parts. Denso Wave’s QR Code can represent up to 7,089 numbers or 4,296 alphanumeric characters – way beyond the capability of a barcode. To maintain its practicality ,it then cleverly discovered a way to shrink the physical image size of a QR Code by adding the ability, unlike a barcode, to store the data in two dimensions – both horizontally and vertically. This has blown open the doors to its potential uses.
QR Codes can be read by a dedicated scanner. However, with the advanced capabilities inherent in the iPhone and other smartphones, not only can they read the codes they can also create them using free or low cost downloadable apps like QuickMark – QR Code Reader, i-nigma QR Code, or QR Scanner.
QR Codes can now be found on mugs, T-shirts, business cards and virtually anything you can display on or print on – even coins.
In fact, in the Netherlands, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Royal Dutch Mint, two different Euro coins were recently unveiled that incorporated a QR Code as part of the design.
Not just for tracking products
QR Codes are also being used for marketing, advertising and even entertainment. That’s why you can see barcodes popping up on restaurant drink coasters, posters, road signs and print materials.
“I include a QR Code on each of my handouts to allow people to immediately access my website and instantly sign-up for my free e-book,” says Time-Blocking expert, Kevin Achtzener, with YoureMakingMe.com.
And it seems to be working.
As for yours truly, you’ll be sure to see a QR Code on my next run of business cards.
You can create QR Codes – which can represent just about anything: a message, a link a phone number, a video, a photo, coordinates on a map, the possibilities are endless – using your smartphone but there are also sites like QRStuff.com that make it a breeze for individuals and businesses to create and use them.
While QR Codes are currently somewhat of a novelty, a few words of caution are in order. QR Codes are inherently safe; use care and common sense when you scan them – the web site they take you to can be virus- or malware-infested.
“We haven’t seen evidence of any security issues yet, but there’s always potential for QR Codes to be exploited,” says Tim Armstrong, malware researcher, Kaspersky Lab, a security software and malware research organization.
While the risks of using QR Codes are small, the ability to compress large amounts of information in a small space can deliver huge benefits to businesses and users as they strive to gain attention and a competitive edge in a world where we are bombarded with the noise of thousands of messages a day.