Quick Response Code

QR Codes: like barcodes, just better

Quick Response Code
A Quick Response Code

QR Codes, or Quick Response Codes, are all the rage nowadays. You know, those black-and-white barcode-looking thingies that show up on magazines, posters, and even some t-shirts.

A QR Code is actually fairly similar to a barcode: it’s an image that encodes data like URLs, phone numbers, words, and more. You can even take a picture and sort of turn it into a QR code (the picture is uploaded to the internet and the QR code encodes the URL of the picture.) Sure you lose some aesthetic value, but hey.

But, you ask, what’s the point of these QR codes if you just store data in them? To hide that embarrassing photo from the Christmas party? Good guess, but no.

Most smartphones have apps to decode QR codes (here’s one for Android phones.) To decode a QR code, open the app (ask it to scan from camera) and it’ll open your camera. Aim the camera at the code and take a picture. The app will decode the QR code for you and turn it into whatever it was before it was decoded.

Text - QR Code - Text
Using a QR Code is like putting something in a box and then taking it out.

Most phones’ QR Code reader apps also let you create QR Codes. There are some web services that do this too.

And that’s really all there is to QR Codes. If you’re a techie you can read the nitty gritty details.


High Capacity Color Barcode
High Capacity Color Barcode

High Capacity Color Barcodes, or HCCBs, do the same thing as QR codes except they’re more colorful.

Microsoft has an implementation of HCCBs called (rather creatively) Microsoft Tag (I think USA Today has some Microsoft Tags on its front page.)

Like with QR Codes, you need a smartphone app to encode and decode these.

Published by

Neel Mehta

Harvard College. Web developer. Sometime philosopher. Baseball junkie.

2 thoughts on “QR Codes: like barcodes, just better”

  1. In my mind the Microsoft Tag is a non starter. QR Codes have gained tremendous uptake over the last few months but there are many examples of bad usage. To be of any value in a marketing campaign the QR Code when scanned MUST deliver value to the scanner. What is the use of taking someone to a badly mobile optimised webpage? The idea behind QR Code is to connect and engage the consumer

    1. Agreed. Many times QR codes are just used as gimmicks to get people’s attention. The Microsoft Tag has seen some usage (mostly because it’s a Microsoft product) but I can imagine many people don’t want to bother downloading yet another app just to scan one code.

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