2D barcodes continue to enter the mainstream in North America after a much slower start than Asia and Europe. Recent improvements in processor speed, camera availability, and software on a wide variety of smartphones means that a great swath of the population now has the capability to very easily read and use these codes. Home Depot recently announced a wide deployment of QR codes in their stores.
2D barcodes – also known as QR (Quick Response) barcodes – come in various flavours and formats, but appear the same and are used in the same way. Whereas the linear barcodes from stores we all know so well are composed of a series of vertical bars of black and white, 2D barcodes are generally a square with a series of squares of black and white (there are other options, however). While traditional barcodes were scanned with a laser based barcode scanner, 2d barcodes are read with an imager – a camera. While we discussed reading these 2D barcodes from mobile phones with a traditional POS setup in earlier posts, reading 2D barcodes with a mobile device is also an interesting prospect for retailers and other consumer facing organizations.
In order for a consumer to read these barcodes, a mobile device and software are required. Mobile phone users can download ScanLife, NeoReader, and Microsoft Tag Reader to read these codes. All three of them come in versions for most major mobile phone platforms including iPhone, Windows Phone, Android, Blackberry, Symbian and more. Scanlife even offers feature phone users the capability for users to capture a code with a camera, send via MMS and receive the data link without the use of an app. Microsoft’s app reads their own proprietary tags.
2D barcodes are appearing for consumer reading on billboards, on products, on posters, on magazine ads, in newspapers and on price tags. They allow companies to share information such as images, demos and more via the web with consumers, and track that information as well. The tags are also being used for reading from the phone as coupons, tickets, and payments. Check out many real world implementations at Roger’s Blog of 2D Barcode Strategy. I’ve seen them more and more – I have recently seen them on a poster at AMC Theatres as a link to Facebook, on a Black Eyed Peas Concert Poster, on the side of a truck advertising a business, at Pearson Airport in Toronto advertising the newly opening iStore Boutique, and many more.
While Google are attempting to usurp their place with NFC tags, it seems likely that both NFC and 2D will exist together, particularly given that NFC phones are not yet mainstream, and 2D barcodes can be shown on screens or printed with any printer, while special NFC tags carry a higher cost and are not as simply or as widely available as of yet.