QR Codes are a type of matrix (or 2-dimensional optical) code consisting of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background.
QR or Quick Response codes have been around since 1994, having been originally developed as product tracking tools in the automotive industry. I first came across them a variation of them a decade ago while I was working in the Pharmaceutical Industry, in the form of DataMatrix or Intelligent Product Codes.
There are currently around 70 types of code, mainly used in logistics. However, they have more recently entered the zeitgeist because they can be used by mobile applications, known as mobile tagging. Mobile tagging was developed in 2003 and has since been used in several fields of mobile marketing or advertising.
For mobile tagging the codes are restricted to around a dozen types, many proprietary. QR and Datamatrix codes provide a widely supported open source format and are the most widely used for optical reading using a mobile. QR reader software is freely available for most mobile platforms.
QR codes storing addresses and Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) are more frequently appearing in magazines, on signs, on buses, on business cards, or on almost any object about which users might need information. I’ve recently seen them on T-shirts and coffee mugs. Users with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader application can scan the image of the QR code to display text, contact information, connect to a wireless network, or open a web page in the telephone’s browser. This act of linking from physical world objects is termed hardlinking or object hyperlinking, which sound delightfully like they come straight off the pages of a William Gibson novel.
I noticed one used as a Twitter avatar a few months ago – something I’ve now duplicated on a couple of business Twitter accounts, and was recently given a business card by a colleague containing his contact details in a QR code.
QR codes can be used for a variety of uses, broadly divided into commercial, public and private tagging. It is their use in mobile tagging across all of these application areas, and in particular commercial tagging, that most catches my imagination.
I’m currently completing a Mobile App project, and will use QR codes to provide a direct link to the Android Market and iTunes store – an example of the kind of enterprise solution which will enable codes to be monetised and customised for business and commercial use. With this in mind I’ve also been looking at the process of branding by adding a logo to QR codes, something which is considered vital by many for commercial tagging.