Cracking the codes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2012, 12:00am


You've seen them before. You know, those pixelated black and white cubes that seem to be everywhere these days. Newspapers (Young Post included), magazines, posters, candy wrappers and business cards all use the technology.

But what exactly are they?

QR codes (or Quick Response codes) have been around since 1994. Invented in Japan by Denso Wave, a subsidiary of Toyota, they were originally used to track vehicles in the supply chain. They were seen as an improvement over traditional bar codes, which use a beam of light to scan. They can be read by any imaging device with the proper software and can store more information.

Helped by the rise in mobile gadgets, QR codes quickly made their way into the world of marketing. Companies use them to deliver information to customers. Information can be in the form of URLs and phone numbers, among others.

To scan, or read, a QR code, you need a proper device with a camera. Smartphones and tablets are commonly used. But any device equipped with a scanning app will work. Basic scanning apps are free and available on IOS and Android devices.

To scan a code, simply enable the scanning app and point the camera at the code. Make sure the area is well lit and that the camera is steady. The app will do the rest.

One of the main advantages of QR codes is the ability to create your own code. There are plenty of code-generating websites out there. And they are all free. Simply add the text, link, etc, you would like and the website will generate the code, which can either be printed or downloaded as an image file.

A mark of any technology is the numbers. And consumers have not quite caught up with marketers' enthusiasm.

A study last year by comScore, a company specialising in digital marketing, showed that in June 2011 only 6.2 per cent of mobile users in the United States scanned a code. Those are not strong numbers, by any means. But then adding a QR code to a product is relatively cheap.

If QR code technology is to progress, it will need to come up with better apps. Quite often, the scanning process takes time and users need to fiddle with the distance and framing to get it right. This becomes off-putting for users who would rather not bother with the thing.

Security concerns are another reason many have avoided the technology. Pointing your phone at a code could expose you to online threats. It is entirely possible for a person to create a malicious code and place it above the original. So it is advisable to only scan codes from a trusted source and to make sure the one you're scanning is the intended one.

It is unclear right now if QR codes are just a fad or here to stay. But at least one company is betting the technology won't be buried any time soon, and has brought the technology to the most unusual of places. Allen Monument Company places QR codes on headstones. Users are connected to a memorial site for the deceased, with photos, bios and other information.

Additional reporting by YP cadet Audrey Lee