Even with the digital age becoming more advanced, it is sometimes a surprise to learn just how far technology has come. With the advent of barcode technology and smartphones, it is possible to send, save, and receive information in new and imaginative ways. Two free ways to do this with smartphones include using Quick Response codes, better known as QR codes, or Microsoft Tags.
What Are QR Codes?
QR codes are a two dimensional matrix barcode that contains information, both horizontally and vertically, in a very small space. They were developed by a Toyota subsidiary to track car parts. The latest versions of QR codes can hold up to 4296 alphanumeric characters of various data types. Although these codes have been popular in Japan for years, they are gaining ground elsewhere in publications, conferences, billboards, posters and promotional materials.
Using a barcode scanner on your mobile phone, you could translate these barcodes to:
- Phone numbers
- Contact information such as Vcards
- Email addresses
- Text messages
- Event information
One of the better uses I’ve seen is by the Android blog site Androinica.com. They recognized that the Android software marketplace isn’t optimal. It’s cumbersome for users to find applications so they include a QR code with their reviews that automatically loads the software for you.
Although most QR codes are black and white, they can be color. The green image below is a QR code that redirects a smartphone to a web page - my Excel tutorials page.
What Are Microsoft Tags?
Microsoft Tags are similar to QR codes with some interesting twists. The first is that they can have a customized background instead of the generated pattern. While this may be more appealing, this barcode technology is not as common and your smartphone may not have a tag reader pre-installed. Microsoft also requires people to include information on how viewers can get their tag reader. The Microsoft Tag image below is for the same Excel Tutorials page I used with the QR code above.
Another difference is implementation. With QR codes, the data is encoded in the graphic and doesn’t need an internet connection to a server to decode it. In contrast, Microsoft Tags need to connect to the internet. This is a minor point if the intent is to send a user to a web page.
These tags offer an advantage of automatically providing some analytic data using a heat map. These maps show how many people scanned your image and the approximate location. Another advantage Microsoft offers is their tag contents can be edited. This is useful if you have content that might change as you could edit the URL or other data elements, but preserve the original barcode image. These Tag images can also have expiration dates and passwords.
You can get some analytics with QR codes if you’re using a URL shortener service like Bit.ly. Bit.ly also allows you to change the URL if needed.
Reading the Bar Codes
Presently, there isn’t a barcode reader that works with QR codes and Microsoft Tags. There are a number of readers that interpret QR codes. Some smartphone manufactures preinstall a reader on the phone. If your phone doesn’t have one, there is a nice listing from the folks at Mobile Barcodes. You can get the Microsoft TAG reader directly from the company at http://www.gettag.mobi/ .
Regardless of which system you’re using, the reading process is similar. You start the bar scanner application and point your phone at the graphic image such as the ones in this article. Your mobile phone camera will activate and you focus in on the image. Some applications include a grid or horizontal line you can use to assist recognition. Once the code is recognized, the application will display the contents or take you to the designated URL.
I should also mention that, as with any online link, you should be careful scanning these images if you don’t trust the source.
Creating QR Codes and Tags
The exciting part is you can make your own QR codes with the help of online QR code generators. The generators are simple to use and provide a template where you choose the data type and fill in the fields. Each code generator is a bit different so you may want to test several. As example, some allow you to send event information or PayPal buttons.
In the example below, I created a QR code using the tool from Kaywa in preparation for a move. I plan to make QR codes to reflect the contents of each moving box. I’ll label each box with a general description, but also include a QR code sticker describing the contents such as CDs. In the free text section, I’ve listed the artists and indicated a medium graphic size. Using my smartphone, I can use a QR reader to see the box contents without re-opening it. I don’t need an online connection.
Microsoft takes a different approach and has a tag manager where you can see all your tags and analytics data. They also allow you to categorize your tags. As example, I might have a category just for my move. This online tool is free, but does require you to have a Windows LIVE ID.
Uses for Barcodes
There are numerous ways that you can use this technology. One popular use is for merchants, who have claimed their business listing, to print their QR code from their Google Places account. The code directs the viewer to the mobile-friendly web page describing their business and providing reviews. This is useful for businesses that don’t have a website. The example below is a QR code for my favorite neighborhood café.
The codes could be printed onto cards, for example. With a quick scan of the QR code or Microsoft Tag on the business card, anyone can be taken to your website or to your social networking page. These codes are beginning their ascent, but with the advertising, marketing, and networking possibilities, the possibilities are endless for these tiny pieces of barcode data.
Last Updated (Friday, 11 May 2012 12:49)