A new type of bar code is starting to appear on product packaging posters and magazines. Known as Quick Response (QR) code, this is a two-dimensional version of the familiar bar code, with blocks instead of bars. Whereas a bar code can store just a few digits, a QR code can store a URL, email address, phone number and lots of other things. If you use special software on your phone to photograph and decode it, it can act as a link, taking you directly to a web page. As such, a QR code on a physical object acts in just the same way as a familiar blue underlined link on a web page. In this walkthrough, we’ll show you how to read a QR code on your mobile phone, and how to create your own code for posters, newsletters or business cards.
1) QR codes have really taken off in Japan; you’ll see them everywhere, and most phones are shipped with a QR code reader. Few phones in the UK come with a reader pre-installed, but there are plenty available for free download. We’re using i-nigma, which is available for a large range of phones; check if yours is supported at www.i-nigma.com/SupportedDevices.html. Using your phone’s web browser, go to www.i-nigma.mobi. As long as a version of the application is available for your phone, the opening screen identifies your phone and provides a download link. Click on the link and, when you’ve agreed to any confirmation requests, the download and installation will commence. when this has finished, you’re given the option of opening the file. In future, you’ll need to locate i-nigma via your phone’s menus, but for now you may as well continue to get your first experience of decoding a QR code.
2) If you don’t have something with a QR code on it (Pepsi Max bottles currently do), you can display one on your PC screen at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_Code, or by searching Google images. with i-nigma running, point the phone’s camera at the QR code and frame it so it fills at least 80 per cent of the field of view before pressing the indicated button; it will depend on your phone. If your phone asks for permission to control the camera, choose Yes and ask once – this avoids repeated requests. Consequently, i-nigma will identify the QR code and zoom in on it; you can see this happen as four red comers converge on the code.
3) If the code wasn’t large enough or was blurry, you’ll be shown a message indicating that the decode was unsuccessful and inviting you to try again. If it did manage to decode the QR code it will show you a URL, email address or other text. Depending on the type, you’ll then have the option to go online, send an email or text or dial the number.
4) QR codes are just as easy to generate as they are to decode. There are a couple of things worth bearing in mind, though. The longer the URL, the larger the QR code graphic and the harder it will be for a mobile phone to decode it – so use a short URL, perhaps one specifically created for use in a QR code. Second, most people going to a website from a QR code will do so from a mobile device, so consider sending them to a page designed for viewing on a small mobile screen. The application we’re going to use is available online at http://tinyurl.com/QRcodegenerator. Enter your URL into the box marked Web Site URL: and, for now, don’t change any of the other options. Click Generate Code to create your QR code.
5) There are many other types of information this web application can generate QR codes for besides website URLs. Browse through the drop-down list under the ‘Select a Code Action:’ heading to see what’s possible. Options include calling or sending a text to a phone number, creating an electronic business card (known as a vCard), setting coordinates on Google Maps and entering free-formatted text. To understand more about the other options, look at http://tinyurl.com/densowave and the subsequent pages.
6) When the code has been generated, it’s shown onscreen. Right-click it, select Save Picture As… from the drop-down menu, choose a folder and filename and click Save. You can now import your QR code into any application that supports PNG images, including web-design and desktop-publishing software and Microsoft Word. When designing your website, poster, newsletter or business card, be aware of the minimum size recommendation, as there’s a limit to how close a mobile phone’s camera can focus. This varies from phone to phone, but the minimum recommended size is 32mm square. Going down to 25mm square means the code will be readable by only 90 per cent of phones.