What is a QR Code?

A QR code is a pixelated square that basically consists of smaller black squares arranged on a white background, and they can be found in numerous places these days.  You will notice them on marketing materials, business cards, technical manuals, magazines, advertisements, and tons of other locations.

QR stands for Quick Response code, and the name is quite accurate…  You can scan the little square QR code with your smartphone camera (or special apps for QR codes with your smartphone) and it will quickly take you to whatever destination the QR code was built to lead you to!

The most popular destination is a website, but that’s not the only thing QR codes can redirect you to…  QR codes literally link the physical world (the black and white square QR code printed on a product/paper) with the digital world.


History of QR Codes

QR codes were invented in 1994 by Denso Wave Inc. in order to more easily track automotive parts in Japan.  Denso Wave Inc. worked for Toyota and they wanted to utilize a technology that had greater storage capacity than the regular barcodes that were (and still are) widely used at the time.

QR codes are more sophisticated than barcodes because QR codes hold data in the horizontal AND vertical direction.  This allows QR codes to hold a substantially larger amount of information in a much smaller size since barcodes can only hold data in the horizontal direction.

Keep in mind that Denso Wave Inc. wanted to be able to keep track of car parts…  A small size code was important to be able to fit on the various size car parts, plus they needed the code to still be readable even if it got dirty or partially destroyed during the manufacturing process.  The QR code they developed satisfied all their requirements!

Denso Wave Inc. wanted to promote widespread usage of QR codes, so the company actually chose to waive its rights to the main patent for standardized codes.  Because of this, QR codes can basically be used by anyone who has access to a smartphone.


Special Features of QR Codes

QR codes are able to be printed in a much smaller area of space than a barcode because of the amount of information a QR code can carry in both the horizontal and vertical directions.  For instance, a QR code can hold the same amount of information in a space that is approximately 1/10 the size of a regular one-dimensional barcode.

QR codes are also built with the capability to correct errors…  A QR code can commonly still be used even if the symbol is partially damaged (this is why they were so helpful in the automotive industry when inevitably some of the QR codes would get destroyed or dirty during the manufacturing process).  This error correction ability of QR codes also enables the use of special pictures/symbols to be graphically displayed on a QR code for marketing purposes.  The picture/symbol is literally the “error” on the QR code, yet the QR code is still able to be read!

Another exciting feature of QR codes is that they’re capable of being read from any direction in 360 degrees.  This means that they can be on round objects, t-shirts, mugs, etc. – the possibilities are only limited by your imagination since the QR codes do not have to be on a flat surface in order to be readable.


Uses of QR Codes

QR codes have found tremendous uses in the area of marketing.  A consumer can use their smartphone to scan the QR code and it will give them access to additional information.  QR codes are also commonly being seen on business cards because the QR code can take you to a link that displays much more information about the person or business than can be displayed on a small business card.

The potential uses for QR codes are practically endless…  There are graveyards where QR codes are literally being printed on the tombstones.  A quick scan of the QR code on the tombstone takes you to a biography and pictures of the person’s life!  QR codes are commonly found in grocery stores near certain ingredients.  A quick scan of the code takes you to a recipe that uses the ingredients right in front of you!  QR codes are literally helping to link the physical with the digital.


How to Make and Use a QR Code

There are multiple QR code generators that you can download to create QR codes.  Some of the most popular QR code generators are:

  • Visualead
  • me
  • Kaywa
  • QR Stuff,
  • qr-code-generator.com
  • QR Code Monkey

It’s very easy to create a QR code once you’ve decided upon which QR code generator you’re going to use.  You’ll need to tell the QR code generator the type of content the QR code is going to show once it has been scanned, and then you’ll simply enter your data in the entry form.

Several of these free QR code generators even allow you to customize your QR code.  Once you’ve generated your QR code, you can easily test it by using your smartphone to scan it and see if it takes you to the link you intended or shows the information you wanted.

There are numerous apps in each of the app stores for QR codes.  All you have to do is type in “QR codes” and multiple apps pop up that can easily scan and read the QR codes.  A convenient feature of the latest edition of smartphones is that they come equipped with a QR code scanner built into the camera!  You simply open your “Camera” app on your phone and point it at the QR code you see, and the phone automatically scans the QR code and takes you to the intended destination.



What is the difference between a QR Code and a Barcode?

A QR code is a two-dimensional code, whereas a barcode is only one-dimensional.  Both types are great for their accuracy and speed with which they can be read, but a QR code can hold MUCH MORE information as well as more character types.  A QR code has information in the horizontal AND vertical direction, whereas barcodes only contain information in the horizontal direction. QR codes can hold a much greater volume of data due to their ability to have information contained within two directions.  In addition, QR codes can still be scanned and read even if nearly 30% of the QR code is destroyed or dirty (due to the QR code’s error correction ability) – this gives QR codes a huge advantage over barcodes.

Why have QR Codes not become more popular?

QR codes are starting to rise in popularity again, but some of their lack of popularity previously was simply because there were so many people that simply didn’t know what they were or how to use them.  Another reason that QR codes were not as popular in recent years was because you had to download special apps in order to be able to scan them.  This has changed now that the newer smartphones are making the camera feature an actual QR scanner.  Some people refer to QR codes as “barcode graffiti” because they don’t like the way they look on printed materials, and this has contributed to their lack of popularity as well.


What are some potential future uses of QR Codes?

Some potential future uses of QR codes are virtual stores, code payments, the ability to log in to a Wi-Fi network, etc.  There are numerous potential uses for QR codes that are only limited by the human imagination…


What are some alternatives to QR Codes?

Several various two-dimensional alternatives to QR codes have been developed in recent years.  The PDF417 was developed by Symbol Technologies in the USA and it is basically a stacked bar code that features a large capacity of data.  DataMatrix was developed by RVSI Acuity CiMatrix in the USA and its main feature is that it has a small printout size.  Another additional type of two-dimensional QR code alternative is the MaxiCode, which was developed by UPS in the USA.  This code’s main feature is its high-speed scanning ability.  Each alternative to QR codes has their individual advantages and disadvantages based on the particular application they’re being used for.


What are the most common places QR Codes are used?

QR codes are most commonly used in marketing so people/businesses can advertise their products.  Due to this fact, QR codes could be on any type of product that someone wants to sell…  Some of the most common places that you’re likely to find a QR code are grocery stores/shopping centers, magazines, billboards, fast food wrappers, bus stops/train stations, newspapers, t-shirts, coffee mugs, business cards, etc.  Anywhere that a QR code square could fit and be printed is a possible location to find a QR code!


Can QR Codes be hacked, and are there any examples of it happening?

QR codes cannot be hacked; however, they can be used for malicious purposes.  The reason you cannot hack a QR code is because the action a QR code does is determined by the arrangement of the small black squares on the large white square.  This specific arrangement corresponds to the specific action that the QR code performs.  The only way you could change the specific action (i.e. – hack the QR code) is to change the arrangement of the little black squares on the large white square, which is why QR codes can’t be hacked.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that QR codes cannot be misused…  Someone could create a QR code that sends you to a malicious destination (such as a website link that contains malware, etc.).  Never scan a QR code if you have any concerns about it.  The same safety techniques you follow in regards to regular cyber activities should also be followed when scanning QR codes.