QR Codes

It looks like mobile 2D barcodes are starting to catch on in Europe at least. When I was in Japan a couple of years ago they were everywhere, on handbills, maps, business cards, product packaging and in magazines. The idea is that you point a camera phone at a barcode and take a picture. Software in the phone decodes the image and takes you to a mobile website, downloads a ringtone or adds contact information to your phone’s address book. Almost all Japanese phones come with code readers.

The rest of the world is starting to adopt this technology. Nokia is bundling a barcode reader with the E90, N93, N93i and N95 (including the US market N95-3). With millions of these phones in circulation we are finally at the point where if you put a barcode on something, there’s actually a good chance that someone will spot it AND have a phone with a barcode reader. Marketers seem to be taking notice too, lately QR codes have appeared on British movie and TV series posters, car ads in Germany and in a South African newspaper. The BBC is using them on promotional materials and Google is putting them in print ads!

I think one of the best uses for barcodes is mobile website discovery. At WapReview.com, I’ve created a directory of over 1000 mobile sites which you can search and browse to find sites with a particular type of content or ones that just look interesting. That’s good but how do you get those sites on your phone? You could just type in the URL but that’s a hassle on a phone keypad. Or you could point your phone’s browser at yeswap.com, a mobile portal that mirrors the directory structure of WapReview.com and is searchable. But now there’s an easier way, every site on WapReview.com has a QR Code included as part of its listing. Here’s an example:

QR code on WapReview.com

It started when I found this great open source library for creating QR Codes, the same code format used in Japan and the most widely used type of mobile 2D codes in the world. The library is by Y. Swetake and it’s pure PHP so it even works on my shared hosting where I can’t install binaries.

Using the library I threw a little code together to display a 2D code along side each listing in the WapReview directory. So if you’re browsing through the directory and see a site you’d like to try you can just snap it with your 2D reader equipped phone to load the site in your phone’s browser. I did find that reading codes off a CRT monitor was hit or miss, only working about half the time, but with an LCD monitor it worked very reliably using the N95. Give it a try. If you don’t have one of the Nokia’s with a bundled reader there are several readers you can try:

Nokia offers a reader download for the N80.

For other phones, go to Semapedia.org, who’s goal is to tag real world places with a 2D codes that point to a Wikipedia article about that place. Semapedia’s homepage has a web form to help you find a reader compatible with your phone. If your phone is not listed on Semapedia here are several QR Code readers you can try:

Quickmark has readers for all S60 phones, most Windows Mobile devices and the SE P900 and P910.

There are a couple of Java ME readers from i-nigma and Kaywa.
If you want to create your own QR Codes you don’t need to install Mr. Swetake ‘s code on a web server, there are a number of QR encoders on the web. Nokia has one as does Mowser.

I can’t mention 2D codes with putting in a plug for Scott Shaffer’s blog, The Pondering Primate which is all about what Scott calls, “Real World Hyperlinks” which includes both barcodes and NFC tags. Kaywa’s blog, All About Mobile Life, is another good starting point for anyone interested to learning about 2D technology and the growing business opportunities around it.

If you do (or don’t) find the 2D codes useful leave a comment. Also, if you find a reader that works on your phone I’d love to hear about it, particularly Java readers for mass market phones. I haven’t found one that works on my Motorola i855. Kaywa’s reader does work on a Sprint Samsung A920 I tried. You have to manually close the Kaywa reader before the browser will launch on the A920, it would be nice if the reader closed itself automatically, but it does reliably decode QR codes which is pretty impressive considering the phone only has a 1 MP camera.

Update: I got an email from Roger mentioning his blog, 2d code. I just took a look and agree 2d code is well worth visiting, in fact right on the front page I learned about two more QR Code readers. ZXING is an open source effort supporting J2ME (although it didn’t work on the two Java phones I tried, a Samsung A920 anda Motorola i855) , J2SE, and Android! The other is iMatrix a native app for hacked iPhones.

18 thoughts on “QR Codes

  1. For me , it’s not a scam.
    It’s the only website on internet to make money with QR Codes and I want try it.
    I’ll tell you in next two months.
    Very thanks for your opinion.

  2. @Dennis Bournique
    I see makemoneywithqrcodes.com and now it’s possible start making money with QR Codes for free.
    I signup for free to QR Codes Affiliate Program and now I hope to make money with QR Codes.
    What do you think about it ???

  3. I’ve been reading about qr and the way you can send a SMS, browse to a website, invoke an email msg, but I couldn’t find anything about launching a program. I am looking on how to launch a software in the mobile that uses the qr tag data without the need to go to the web. Thank you.

    • AFAIK app invocation is not defined in the QR code spec or implemented in any existing QR code reader. So you would have to create your own reader that responded to a text string or custom URI scheme by launching an app.

  4. Respected sir,

    i have read about u & qr codes,sir i have got a keen interst in qr codes,sir i wanna learn things regarding qr codes so that i cud start something related to qr code .as i am a toddler in this area, dnt know wht to do ,pl.guide my wht nxt to do.looking fwd ur kind guidance with me like a mentor.

    kind rgds

    • My advice is to learn by doing:
      Start by reading everything you can find on the Internet regarding QR codes
      Then build some prototype apps based on sample code you find.

      I’m much to busy to be your personal mentor. If you have a specific technical question about some detail of your implementation ask and I will try to help

    • It’s OK but $9/month a month is too much for mobile website.
      http://winksite.com is free and gives you a mobile site with QR code and the ability to serve ads if you want.
      Or for $10 or less you can get a shared hosting account with Hostgator, 1and1, Dreamhost or GoDaddy and run WordPress with the WordPress Mobile Pack Plugin

  5. Pingback: 2D barcodes for mobile URLs « Knowledgebase Le Singe Media

  6. Hello dennis, I find it as Great post. I really like the ideas you presented here and something like QR Codes could have almost limitless applications. There are so many different thing that you coulod do with the ability to get information that quickly and easily. I would love to see this technology spread to the market as I have been the goofy looking guy standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk trying to find information with my mobile. I think I usually annoy the people I am with more than the strangers who are looking at me.

  7. Pingback: QR Code Nedir? | Şekercioğlu Günlüğü

  8. Mike, Barnabas, streetstylz and Mark,

    Thank you all for your comments.

    Mike, I agree that Nokia decoder is less than it could be and that burying it deep in the menu system guarantees that 90% of users will never find it. But much of what Nokia and the device manufacturers do seems counter-intuitive, “design by committee” lives! I moved the Nokia barcode reader up to the root folder on my N95 so I can launch with two clicks, not as nice as if it were integrated into the camera application but not bad either.

    Mark, I don’t want to step in the middle of a format war. I’m aware of Datamatrix and have no doubt that it’s superior technically. Having the technically better solution doesn’t necessarily translate to success, i.e., Betamax vs. VCR. My take is that QR Codes work and have mass adoption in Asia. It makes sense for the West to adopt the more popular format worldwide rather than having different standards in different locales. Users and vendors are better served by there being single universal international standard.

    streetstylz, I looked at Neomedia and they seem to have a proprietary solution. QR Code and Datamatrix are open standards free for anyone to use. I don’t understand why anyone would pay to license something when there are free and open alternatives.

    Barnabas, the i-nigma reader sounds like a good one. I’m looking for a better reader for my Samsung and Motorola feature phones but sadly i-nigma doesn’t work on them.

  9. The piece on QR codes is very informative, and yes there is a wave of interest in Optical Reading with Mobiles. Importantly though, the information written about the codes should be more clearly explained and marketeers don;t always research their subject that well (with the greatest of respect!) before writing a lot about the little they’ve found out about. This is a relatively new application and the majority of articles on the subject provide only a part of the picture.
    May I help with a little extra piece of the puzzle too – and happy to provide as much as anyone wants. Yes QR is a world standard code but, so is a DataMatrix as is a 1d Barcode, familiar to everyone.
    The reason QR was adopted in Japan was because of their Kanji (extensive alphabet) so a ‘larger’ code was needed and Japanese phones were fitted with a switchable Macro Lens to be able to read it at a reduced size.
    As QR has been used there for some time it would seem to many that QR was the ‘only’ answer – however, GS1 who are a leading force in code standards would and do only suggest 1d barcodes and DataMatrix for example on packaging.
    A QR is 60% bigger than a DM, not a whole lot of difference you may think, but size matters when using the codes in many business scenarios.
    Both QR and DataMatrix are also able to be read by one reader – i.e. there isn’t an issue there particularly and in fact they can be in colour too (if necessary.) Many ‘other’ codes being promoted are proprietary codes so will have limitations i.e. requiring special readers, not necessarily the best direction for the long term.
    Finally, but I’d be delighted to explain more on the subject, whilst the codes will I believe play a huge part in Mobile Marketing for the future, no one is going to make money by simply linking to url’s. The business solutions are already providing profitable results, marketing will benefit when there’s enough codes to make it something the public can see and use in everyday life – and the codes need to work cross-media to maximise the opportunities for agencies and their clients.

    May I just add that RFID which is an excellent technology for specific application is however limited as it can only reach say 10-20% of channels, however, combine it with an Optical Reader and you reach 50%+ more channels like newspapers, tv etc. and that’s another opportunity to release a huge potential for Mobile Marketing – Just a thought :-)

    Mark Hendriksen
    UpCode Mobile Solutions UK

  10. I love the idea of physical hyperlinking, but I find the execution from the application side in most cases to be lacking. Take the N95 for example. I know what the barcodes are, I even had heard that the N95 had a reader, and when I took it home to play with it I wanted to try out some barcode stuff cause I hadn’t had a phone with a camera for a while. After looking around I didn’t see it or any related options on the phone, and just assumed the US version had no barcode reader installed. Looking around online however I discovered that it’s installed in the “Office” folder by default. And doesn’t integrate with the normal camera app in any way.. As an educated user attempting to complete a task I had a pretty decent amount of info about I still failed.

    Device manufacturers should be working to make their devices more useful, which in some cases means putting a bit of effort into helping along initiatives that benefit their users. I would love to see QR codes out in general use. But when you’ve got the chicken/egg problem of adopting new multipart technologies on a large scale you need either a killer app or a strong hand guiding the effort. In the US and Europe I’m not sure there’s a killer app yet, and the manufacturer push has been limp wristed at best.

  11. Dennis, you piqued my curiosity about installing a QR reader on my Blackjack. I got one from http://www.i-nigma.com after following the Semapedia link. It turns out that you can go to i-nigma.mobi on your device and it will auto-detect and install the reader for you; tremendously easy.

    Even better, the app opens the camera and is continuously scanning. You don’t have to click “capture” or anything to read the QR code, it just reads it and asks if you want to go to the site. I tried it off your code on my LCD screen and it worked beautifully. I am eager to see QR codes used more often here in the states.

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