QR Codes – Why you need to know what they are

They’ve been around since 1994, you’ve likely seen them and maybe even used them unknowingly,  however QR (Quick Response) codes have been given a new birth thanks to modern smartphones.

What are they?

“A QR Code is a matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by QR scanners, mobile phones with a camera, and smartphones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on white background. The information encoded can be text, URL or other data.”– Wikipedia.

Here’s what a QR code looks like:

I can scan the above image with a simple free QR code reader application and I will automatically be directed to whatever content the creator of the QR code (i.e. the organization marketing a product/service) wants me to see. In this case, if you were to scan the image on your left with your phone (using a free QR reader), you would be directed to the English Wikipedia Mobile Webpage without having to type in the URL. Today I received a brochure in the mail with Miele kitchen appliances. In the middle of the brochure they had a QR code listed with an invitation to scan it with my phone. Upon scanning I was automatically taken to a video showcasing their dedication to quality and featuring an interview with the Miele family.

Why should you care?

Let’s look at some recent stats (admittedly U.S. based) from Morgan Stanley and Nielsen:

  • In 2012 shipments of smartphones will exceed shipments of PCs
  • 35% of American adults are using their mobile devices for Internet access
  • 40% of current iPhone/Android users access the Internet more on their mobile devices than on their desktops
  • By 2011, 99% of mobile devices will be data capable.

I’m sure you get the picture here. Internet access as we know it is going to be primarily mobile much sooner than we initially thought. If you work for the public sector, think about government service delivery. Instead of pointing people back to a hopeless departmental website, you could provide an optional QR code allowing people to instantly see that “how-to” video or be taken to that specific page 12 levels down without posting an ugly dynamic URL. Every program would be able to have it’s own QR code, proving even more that marketing is truly converging and needs to be taken seriously as every touch point of an organization will soon be in the spotlight.

How do I create a QR code?

You can use a variety of free QR Code Generators.

Are there accessibility issues?

From what I’ve heard, as long as it’s provided as an option not an exclusivity then no. I’ve been hearing it’s OK from the “Common look and Feel” evangelists with the justification being that it should be pointing back at content that should be accessible in the first place. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Obviously, one way or another QR codes or their equivalent will have to start being considered sooner or later in a major way.

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