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Guide to QR Codes

What is a QR Code?

QR stands for Quick Response. These square, black and white matrix symbols are 2D barcodes that a mobile device can read, and help a consumer jump instantly to where they need to be, whether that's a web address, telephone number or email.

Typing in a long website address off an advert on a mobile phone can be tricky and time-consuming, so these small, rather mysterious-looking images can extend the space and value of an advert or printed material, providing enhanced information and hidden extras to the consumer. As an added benefit, they can hide complicated website addresses and are traceable.

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How is it used?

QR codes are used in newspapers, adverts on public transport, kiosks, restaurant menus, product packaging and many other places. They have been even been carved into beaches, and printed on clothes.

With over 5 billion mobile phone connections worldwide, the mobile phone market is dominated by the rise of smartphones: phones with cameras, web access and apps. The number of consumers browsing the Internet using their mobile phone has rapidly increased - 32% of mobile users access it regularly.

Typing in a long web address can be tricky and time-consuming, so a QR code replaces the need by allowing a consumer to scan the barcode and go straight to the information they need. Quite often this is a website, but QR codes can also contain telephone numbers and email addresses.

The most important things to consider are whether the final destination is suitable for a mobile phone, and that the code is readable wherever it appears, by using contrasting colours.

Some smartphones will come with a preinstalled application to read QR codes, but for others there are many free apps available to download in the appropriate app store.

Their use is becoming ever more inventive as the number of smartphones increases and awareness grows. 47% of UK consumers who have used a QR code were keen to scan another, and a further 33% would scan if they were convinced as to the benefits. In Japan they are already very popular.

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Who uses QR codes?

Following 2011 research by UK and US companies, consumers reveal how they use (or don't use) QR codes, and their understanding.

64% of those surveyed did not know about QR codes, and 52% do not have a device capable of scanning QR codes. This is due to the handset not being a smartphone with camera, though smartphones often have to download an app to read the codes. It is hoped that QR code readers will become standard software.

Men are far more prolific users of QR codes, making up 60.5% of those who positively responded that they had used a QR code.

However, in the US, only 6.2% of US mobile users scanned a code in the month of June 2011.

The majority of QR codes were scanned at home, with significant numbers scanned at retail stores and grocery stores. QR codes were also scanned at work, outside or on public transport or at restaurants.

The majority of the codes were displayed on printed media, or product packaging. Some codes were displayed on television, but this has occasionally been ridiculed because television adverts are very short, and it takes a dedicated consumer to pull out their phone and scan before the ad is over!

More Statistics:

Econsultancy: Two thirds of consumers don't know what QR codes are: survey

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How does it work?

A QR code carries information vertically and horizontally, so it is able to encode the same amount of data in approximately 10% of the space required by a traditional bar code. Characters are encoded into black and white patches which are then read by machines.

The type of data a QR code can store ranges from numeric, alphanumeric, 8 bit binary and Kanji, full-width Kana. Numbers take up the least amount of space, and Kanji the most.

The size of a QR code is dictated by the amount of data it must contain. Sometimes more data can be held by splitting down the QR code.

Each code contains larger, position detection patterns, which are usually placed on three corners of a QR code as it is generated. These allow a machine to identify a QR code and read it from any direction.

The codes also have error correction capability to allow the restoration of data if a QR code is damaged or is covered by some dirt, though this is up to a maximum of 30%.

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The QR code began life in the automotive industry, but its use has extended due to the speed it can be read and the large amounts of data it can contain, when compared to more traditional barcodes.

In 1994 QR codes were used to track vehicles as they made their way round the assembly line, and the size and amount of data they can contain has been increased steadily since then.

Today you can see QR codes on tickets, products and adverts, where a scanning device such as a phone is close at hand to read it. QR codes can be easily created online for free, as the code is free of any license. QR codes are an ISO standard. Denso Wave, the original creators do own the patent rights, but they do not plan to exercise them.

QR codes can be encrypted, and can also contain error correction, allowing for some artistic embellishments of QR codes, such as the inclusion of an image in the middle.

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