What is QR? Explaining the new two-dimensional barcode

The QR code in this Ralph Lauren magazine advertisement is decoded by a mobile phone, which then directs the potential customer to an online catalogue site.All of us are familiar with barcodes. We see them everyday being scanned by cashiers as we make our purchases in a shop or supermarket. Originally, barcodes were created to automate the process of checking-out items from grocery stores, making it easier to keep track of the inventory. The traditional barcode uses vertical lines and spaces to encode data and is referred to as a linear or one-dimensional barcode. Today, these barcodes are very common and are used worldwide to encode information.

In 1994, Japanese company Denso Wave Inc. came up with a new type of barcode that quickly became popular in Japan. These barcodes are two-dimensional and are known as a “QR” code or “Quick Response” code. A QR barcode is an image with three large positioning black boxes. A QR barcode can be of differing physical sizes and can be used to encode a URL, a SMS message or simply a text message. The information in a QR code can be decoded at high speed using a QR code reader. In addition, many cellular phones are capable of quickly scanning a QR code using the phone’s built-in camera. The application that allows cell phones to read QR codes can be easily acquired online and downloaded using standard USB or bluetooth technology.

So, how are these new barcodes used and why are they so useful? QR codes are matrix codes capable of better data encoding than their one-dimensional predecessors. This means that they can contain much more detailed information, such as hyperlinks and even business cards. In a supermarket, the QR code on a product can link to more nutritional information than can be included on the package. The shopper can whip out a cell phone and “scan” the QR barcode to check if his/her favourite item contains transfat!

Consider another scenario. You are handed the business card of an acquaintance with a small QR code printed on the back of it. You pull out your camera-phone and place the card within range of the camera; within a fraction of a second the phone scans the code and displays an electronic version of the business card on the screen, allowing you to save the information directly to your contact list. The code can include all the traditional information found on a business card plus more, including multiple phone numbers, addresses, job title, birthday, IM address and even a hyperlink to a website, which can be directly accessed by the phone’s web browser.

The traditional 1-D barcode (left) can only store a product description, while the new 2-D QR code (right) can store more complex data such as a URL or text message. The code on the right says “Graphic Arts Magazine is so cool.”

QR readers can decipher the code off of a printed magazine page, a poster in the street or even a web page displayed on a computer screen. Advertisers have begun to include QR codes in their magazine ads, where the reader is able to scan the QR code off the page and be directly linked to a promotional online website.

Do you want to generate your own QR code? There are many websites that will allow you to input your text and the site will convert your message into a QR code, giving you the QR barcode as an image for you to use as you wish. All you need is a reader for your phone and you are set to go. For example, see http://qrcode.kaywa.com/

Simply type in your message in the appropriate space, and the site will instantly generate the QR barcode image.
Commercially, QR codes have become fairly popular, and they continue to attract attention as new ways of using them continue to be found. What’s there not to love about QR codes? It seems that these codes will play a large role in the future in our technological-shifting print world. Now, next time you’re flipping through your favourite magazine, you’ll know what that funny pattern is!