QR Codes: The Way Of The Future

Last week I was flipping through a magazine with some friends and we landed on a page that had a Quick Response barcode (QR code) on it. Not thinking anything of it, I continued to turn the page, and both of them said, “Wait, what was that?”

I turned the page back, we scanned it with my iPhone and discovered a buy-one-getone-free coupon from a local steak restaurant.

While this barcode type has been around for a long time, not everyone knows what it is and why it matters.

A QR code is a two-dimensional barcode in the shape of a square and consists of black, splotchy-looking modules. It can be read extremely quickly using your iPhone (or other smart phone) and embeds a Web address for you to receive more information or perform a transaction.

Essentially, a QR code is equivalent to an on-the-go hyperlink. It’s a growing way of accessing the Internet. In fact, I believe this will be the way of the future. Instead of looking something up on Google with your computer, QR codes offer the opportunity for you to perform an inquiry in seconds.

A recent report released by Mobio Identity Systems indicates the use of QR codes in America has risen by a whopping 4,549 percent (from 2010) during the first three months of 2011. The 35-44 age group dominates QR scanning at 26 percent, followed by the 45-54 group at 22 percent, and the 25-34 group at 22 percent. Surprisingly, the 18- to 24-year-olds only made up 12 percent.

QR codes started becoming popular in Asia a few years ago, especially in Japan and South Korea. Only recently have I started seeing them pop up here in the U.S. I notice businesses typically use these in publications, restaurant menus (receive a special discount or display pictures of the meals) or just randomly on a poster or flier.

Here are a few great free apps you can use to start scanning away (using your phone’s camera).

* i-nigma QR Code, Data Matrix and 1D barcode reader: My personal favorite, and it’s based on 3GVision’s barcode scanning technology, which has become the de-facto standard for the Japanese. Supports iPhone, Android.

* QR Code Reader and Scanner: This app can scan any two-dimensional code, plus you can create contact information (adds to your address book), calendar event, email address, geo location, call with a phone number, send an SMS or visit a URL. Supports iPhone, Android.

* RedLaser: In addition to QR codes, this app scans UPC, EAN, UPC-E and EAN-8 bar-codes. You can create your own QR code from your contacts, a URL or text. It searches for prices with Google, TheFind, eBay and Half.com.

This one is probably best for comparison shopping, reading product reviews or making note of a product for later. Supports iPhone, Android, BlackBerry.