2011.13 | Mobile 2D Code Scanning

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.


  1. Tim Dickey says:

    Duly noted, Jon. I’ve updated the reference in the 2011.12 reference to make the change to the Kokanee reference to add agencies and point to grip. You would think with all of my Mad Men and Age of Persuasion episode listening I would have known that someone like grip put them up to it. Thanks for the info!

  2. nice article.

    point of clarification. in the case of kokanee beer, the “supplier” didn’t do the qr code with trail map. it was us, the agency, grip limited.


  3. Tim Dickey says:


    I’ve looked at them as well, and I’ve not seen anything that they do that cannot be done by the ‘vanilla’ 2D codes. The microsoft codes scan quickly, and seem to work well when codes are smaller. Most 2D barcodes scan pretty quickly as well, but that may be a function of the power of the device more than the codes. Tough to tell without testing a bunch of different platforms. I can tell you that newer phones like the iPhone 4 and the Blackberry Torch scan both quickly and well, but iPhone 3 and other devices only a couple years old really seem to lag.

    A few very small strikes against the Microsoft Tag option are:

    1. The colours – not sure if they can do different colours, but the teal, yellow, fuschia thing might be hard to get by the marketing types depending on the corporate colour scheme. Also if you are going to use them for information on shelf tags in stores, most of the printers I’ve seen are not colour, so it would not be possible to use the Microsoft Tags.

    2. The Microsoft App only scans Microsoft Tags as far as I can discern. ScanLife and NeoReader can scan all sorts of tags. Using the Microsoft App means I have to have that app for one kind, and the other app for anything else. While I’m a prolific app downloader, many others are not, and it may put them off to be required to download a specific app.

    3. Recognition. Most people I speak with in Canada recognize the 2d Barcodes as something scannable at least. I don’t think Tag has the recognition around me, but that could vary. One of the reasons I wrote the post was that many of the contacts I have knew about the codes but did not know how to scan them.

    I’m sure someone can fill us in on these items if we watch for more comments!

    Hope that helps!

  4. Tim,

    I was looking at the unique format of the Microsoft Tags (http://tag.microsoft.com/consumer/index.aspx) which seems to be based more of a bunch of triangles than black and white dots in a 2D pattern.

    What’s you’re take on this new Tag barcode format? Is it doing anything unique that can’t be done with a typical QR barcode?

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