There is a new buzz in the air. Something not everyone knows about. It is coming to the US. It is the Quick Response (QR) Code. True, some people know about it, but most are still unaware of the impact this simple code is going to have. You have probably seen codes like this before without even realizing it. Want to know what all the hype is about? Want to be ahead of the competition in the tech race? Read this article, or you will be sorry you didn’t!
There are essentially two different classifications of tags or codes: 1-dimensional (1D) and 2-dimensional (2D). While 3-dimensional (two or more 2D codes stacked on top of one-another) and 4-dimensional (usually codes conveyed by sound, such as Morse Code or more commonly in Sony Dynamic Digital Sound (SDDS)) codes do exist, they are not widely used in the personal/commercial sector for identification purposes. They usually also require very specific (and often costly) equipment to decode. For the purposes of this article, we will touch on 1D tags, but will be going further in-depth into 2D.
1D Tags (Barcodes)
Barcodes are a linear series of vertical black and white bars that can be read by a scanning device either from left-to-right or right-to-left.
Universal Product Code (UPC)
Currently, the most prevalent coding system in the United States is the Universal Product Code (UPC). Nearly every product you purchase in a store has one. The UPC has been in use since 1974. The code is read by a scanner, then translated into the product information for use in various applications, most notably to represent price at the checkout counter. Current UPCs encode 12 decimal digits. The problem with the UPC is the limited number of codes available. In fact, the UPC is already being challenged in the US by the European Article Number (EAN).
European Article Number (EAN)
The EAN was devised by the global market as a replacement for the UPC. The code has been renamed to International Article Number, but to avoid confusion the acronym EAN is still used. Whereas the UPC encodes 12 digits, the EAN encodes 13. The addition of an extra digit increased the number of codes available by 40%. All retail systems in the US and Canada were required to have the capability to read both UPCs and EANs as of 1 January 2005. The EAN is used worldwide for product identification.
2D Tags (Matrix Tags)
Matrix tags are data sets displayed on 2 dimensions. There are several different types of 2D codes, and therein lies the problem. As opposed to 1D codes, where a standard has been reached, there is no 2D standard as of yet. Reading 2D tags requires an optical scanner capable of reading along 2 dimensions simultaneously as well as corresponding decoding software.
The Datamatrix code is a combination “cells” which represent data. The “cells” are generally square in shape, but since there is currently no standard for “cell” shape, sometimes are circles or dots are used. It can store up to 3,116 ASCII characters. The code always includes two adjacent sides of solid black called the Finder Pattern (used for orientation purposes by the reading software) and a “quiet zone” surrounding the code. The “quiet zone” is usually white, but does not have to be. The color of the “cell” in the corner opposite the corner created by the Finder Pattern is what designates the color of the “quiet zone”. The Datamatrix code has been selected by the US Department of Defense and most of the Aerospace Industry as their code of choice. The newest version of the Datamatrix code can be systematically reconstructed and read even if the code has sustained up to 30% damage.
The MaxiCode was designed and is used (almost exclusively) by the United Parcel Service (UPS) for package tracking. It is easily identified by the “bull’s eye” center (used for orientation) and honeycomb-like data cells. A single code can store up to 93 characters of information. The benefit of the MaxiCode is the ability to chain up to 8 codes together for additional information. Due to its omnidirectional nature, MaxiCodes can be read by scanners while the code is in motion.
The BeeTagg is a non-standard code created specifically for mobile tagging and is most easily recognized by its honeycomb appearance. It is similar to the MaxiCode without the “bull’s eye” in the center. It can include a security layer which is great for contests and coupons. It was featured in the Stockholm Film Festival guide and is a rapidly up-and-coming code. Two of the most interesting attributes of the BeeTagg are the ability to embed a logo in the center without compromising readability and that no “quiet zone” is needed surrounding the code..
Quick Response (QR)
Introduced in 1994 by the Japanese corporation Denso-Wave (a member of the Toyota Group), the QR Code is quickly becoming the standard for 2D codes. It is identified by the black and white squares in three corners used for orientation and can store up to 7,089 numerical characters; 4,296 alphanumeric characters; or 1,817 Kanji characters. It was originally introduced as a new way to track automotive parts and is the most used 2D code in Japan, where most new tech-trends make their start. The most recent implementations of the QR code include:
- the rollout of the Google Favorite Places initiative in which Google has sent out QR window decals to its top 100,000 most searched local businesses in the US, and
- the inclusion of QR codes into BlackBerry’s widely used BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) application.
In my opinion, the fact that Google and BlackBerry have chosen the QR code as their standard is proof that it will become the standard 2D code used in the US. The QR code is the way of the future. It is my prediction that QR codes will be a prominent means for identification and data sharing in the near future. A QR code, when scanned, can do many different things. It can automatically route your web-enabled cell phone to a website; transfer a phone number or contact card to your phone; display a text-based message on your phone; or trigger a predetermined SMS text message be sent to the phone that scanned it.
Many people are unaware, but any BlackBerry equipped with BBM 5.0 or higher has a comprehensive QR code scanner. It is generally used to add another BBM user’s PIN; however, the scanner will decode any QR code.
High Capacity Color Barcode
The newest type of 2D code to hit the market is the High Capacity Color Barcode introduced by Microsoft, commonly referred to as the Microsoft Tag. Whereas most 2D codes are black and white dots/squares/hexagons, the Microsoft Tag is multicolored triangles. The implementation of color yields a virtually limitless number of combinations. Currently, the Microsoft Tag is in beta. A quote from the Microsoft Tag page:
Now you can make anything interactive. Link real life with the digital world, by adding a Tag to your product package, print-based media, signage, outdoor advertisement, business card, storefront, exhibit, video or just about anything else.
Get your code today!
Interested in implementing a 2D code? Check out these websites to get your code today! They are all FREE, so why wait?
- http://qrcode.kaywa.com. A QR code generator.
- http://www.beetagg.com. A QR, BeeTagg, and Datamatrix code generator.
- http://keremerkan.net. A QR Code generator by Kerem Erkan.
- http://www.microsoft.com/tag. THE Microsoft Tag generator. Requires registration. They are currently in beta and are giving the tags away for free. I do not anticipate the “free” to last forever, so get your tag today!
- http://www.tec-it.com. Here you can generate almost any type of code, be it 1D or 2D, but it is not as user-friendly as the others.
Get a code reader!
As stated above, if you have a BlackBerry with BBM 5.0 or higher, you already have a QR code scanner, but you are still behind the power curve without the ability to read others. I recommend the BeeTagg Reader, as it can decode BeeTaggs, QR codes, and Datamatrix codes. You can get it here. A quote from BeeTagg.com:
Link the offline world to the online world and make things come alive. All you need is a QR Code, BeeTagg Code or Datamatrix and the BeeTagg Multicode Reader on your phone.
To get the Microsoft Tag reader, head over to http://www.microsoft.com/tag. The reader can be downloaded after you have registered.
“Why would I want one of these codes? What will it do for me/my business?”
The answer is simple: mobile tagging is the way of the future. The tech-era has brought us many things we now take for granted. QR codes are being rolled out all over the globe. Businesses are displaying them in their windows, advertisers are using them in their signs, marketers are incorporating them in their projects, restaurants are incorporating them in their menus, geocachers are using them in their hunts…the list goes on and on. It will not be long before every business card has a QR code on it and every business will have one as a part of their logo. We are moving at a break-neck speed into a paperless world. While still a relatively new technology, the QR code is catching on fast. Don’t find yourself trying to catch up because you don’t think it will happen.
I would love to hear your comments about QR codes, be they for or against. Thank you for visiting. I hope this article helped.