Beyond the Barcode: QR Codes for Shopping, Discounts and More
Last week Google announced a new way for Android phone users to make purchases on the go without handing over their credit cards to strangers.
The process involves a QR code, a two dimensional version of a barcode, which a mobile merchant can generate for a customer and display on a screen. The customer takes a picture of the code with his Android camera phone that opens a private payment window in his browser where he can complete his transaction.
While the need for this type of mobile payment may be limited to roaming events like craft fairs and farmers markets, these square codes are being put to use by a growing number of businesses and can contain surprising information. For instance, Continental Airlines and others use the Aztec code, a type of QR code, for mobile boarding passes.
QR codes versus standard barcodes
QR codes and their counterparts can contain far more data than the standard barcode. Each code is made up of a grid of tiny squares that can be read both horizontally and vertically. Some codes can even be stacked one on top of another. The increased data capacity means QR codes can trigger more complex actions such as opening a Web page or initiate the download of a video or an online coupon. In contrast, standard barcodes rarely do more than identify products and prices.
Most BlackBerry and Android phones have a QR reader built into their operating systems, so they can read QR codes out of the box. Free QR readers are also available for other smartphones including the iPhone.
QR code uses
QR codes were developed by Japanese company Denso-Wave in 1994, and are widely used in Japan . But they're just making their way into U.S. magazines and other printed material, on signage and on packaged goods.
At this year’s South by Southwest conference, an annual gathering of techies, QR codes appeared on every person's badge, providing a quick way to score essential contact information, with no typing required. Also, the New York Islanders hockey team just launched a free gift offer that can be accessed by QR codes in its ads. So before you throw that can of Coke away, scan it—you may be pleasantly surprised.
Decoding without a smartphone
If you don’t have a smartphone, you can still decode any QR code you come across. Take a picture of the code, save as a .jpg file and then upload it into the Zxing Decoder Online. Alternately, paste in the site address from the page with the barcode.
It's also easy to make your own QR code. Here's how:
- Install a QR scanner on your smartphone if it is not preloaded on your phone. Many are available. Here’s one to try: i-Nigma by 3GVision is compatible with most iPhone, Android, and Blackberry phones.
- Make your personal QR code with a QR code generator like the free one from Zxing Project. This one will generate a code for contact information along with single information codes containing just a telephone number, Website or simply text. Think secret message.
- Save it as a .jpg file and post it on your blog, Facebook Page or add it to your next round of business cards. QR code users will appreciate there will be no typing to save the contact info.
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