Sunday, September 26, 2010

QR Codes: making use of that camera on your phone

Maybe you've see one of these odd collections of black pixels in a magazine, on a flyer, or perhaps even stretched across the side of a building (unlikely unless you've regularly visited Times Square or Japan). Every time that you walk into College Library you pass one, but have you ever bothered to learn what the image was all about?

QR or Quick Response codes, like the one pictured to the left in Times Square, are 2-D bar codes readable by smartphones and other cell phones with cameras. The code can be linked so that when mobile phone users snap a picture of the code they are brought directly to the intended URL, video, image, or text. By integrating both the camera and web capabilities of mobile phones, QR codes mark a "new" mobile technology.

While QR codes are still working there way into the American mainstream, they have already been utilized in some unique ways. The first major use of QR codes have been for advertising and commercial uses. Some magazines have begun placing QR codes in advertisements (e.g. Elle magazine) to promote ad sales. Advertisers see this codes embedded in ads as a direct link to their website and thus an added opportunity to reach their targets. Billboards like those in NYC use the same concept.

QR codes have also been utilized for their ability to link to content unavailable anywhere else. For example, powerpop band We The Kings worked closely with Microsoft Tags (Microsofts version of QR codes) to offer tickets and unique music downloads to their fans both online and through codes handed out at concerts. I think that this use of QR codes holds the most potential for guerilla marketing and social organization.

They can also be used for more formal grassroots political and social movements such as Women of the Storm's use of QR codes to organize support around restoring the Gulf after the BP oil spill.

One of the latest uses of QR codes comes from Mogotix who has used the mobile technology to replace physical event tickets. Instead of carrying (and perhaps losing) the paper tickets, Mogotix send people who buy tickets a SMS version of their ticket that can then be scanned at the event in lieu of a physical ticket.

This technology obviously has the limitation of only being available to compatible mobile phone users, but I believe that the ubiquity of smartphones and mobile phones with cameras means that QR codes are the way of the future. QR codes future will rely on the trend of users switching to camera-equipped phones. I have no doubt that soon enough even my parents and grandparents will have to surrender their first-generation cell phones and upgrade to a camera-equipped phone or a smartphone.


  1. I definitely think that QR codes are a very helpful technology that will only be used more in the future. For example, I remember getting my new blackberry and asking a friend for her pin. Instead she took my phone, layed it on top of hers and a weird barcode was displayed -our phones just synced. I still think this is the coolest thing. Since then I have also had a ticket sent to my phone like you discussed for a show which was so helpful since i tend to leave tickets at home or lose them.

  2. I think that QR codes are very interesting and agree that they could develop into a very interesting use of technology for communication purposes. However, I do think right now, they suffer from a lack of awareness. I know personally I had no idea that that weird looking symbol that is used to identify my phone or that weird box on a flier outside College Library meant, let alone did something. I think, however, as more and more people become familiar with them they can be used in communication like advertisements and promotions (e.g. coupons on your phone, tickets, etc.) but also can go beyond that realm and be used for other purposes in the future like smart phone applications.

  3. QR codes definitely have a great deal of potential for advertising - especially in print. In a magazine, a newspaper, a poster, a flyer, etc. organizations can put this code in addition to a link to their website. Using their smart phones, individuals can use the QR code to directly access the orgs website and then bookmark it for later or check it out right then and there. This would greatly increase the ability people have to act on ads in magazines (which is already higher than most media) and other print mediums because they don't have to remember the name of the brand or the website for later - they have a simple, convenient way to capture that information and store it.

    Though many people may not know about it yet, QR codes use technology tons of people already know how to use - their own smart phones (or iPods...). Once you figure out what one QR code is, and what to do with it, it is a concept that you then know forever.