A growing number of smartphone users are discovering that a QR code scanner app on their device provides a versatile link between the physical and digital worlds. QR codes (short for “quick response”) consist of a grid of black squares on a white background that your cell phone camera can scan to capture the information stored in the code. Code may store a simple string of data, such as a name and phone number, or it may contain more complex data that will trigger a set of actions when you scan it.
You’ve probably seen scores of advertisements with QR codes that link to a product’s website, these codes can be used to engage with people or share data many other ways. Here are five ideas designed to make QR codes a regular go-to app in your digital toolkit, and some tips on getting the most out of your QR code experience.
- Activate your business card. QR codes can greatly enhance the impact of your business card. Create a vCard of all of your contact data, and your clients can scan your QR code to instantly add you to their contacts list. You can also embed an entire email or text message in the QR code with your contact info and the prepared message requesting a price quote or other follow-up information, for example. By scanning the code, your associate will get the entire prepared and addressed email or text message to send to you from his or her device without typing in a single character.
- Single-tap social media. You can generate QR codes to link to just about every major social media platform. Generate a code to invite follows or shares of your social media content or create an entire status update for your friends to share.
- Share times and places. QR codes can link to time-sensitive or location-specific information on fliers or other print material. Generate a calendar event with detailed information and your contacts will be able to scan the data directly into their calendars. Similarly, a map location code will link them directly to your location in your clients’ preferred map application.
- Manage your WiFi settings. QR codes can also help you manage and share your in-office or in-home WiFi settings. A QR code can be safely used in any setting where you already post your WiFi password as plain text for co-workers or visitors. Simply scan a print out of the QR code and your router name; encryption settings and passwords are stored on your device. Using a QR code WiFi log-in lets you create more secure passwords and change them more frequently while still maintaining ease of use.
- Zap from desktop to device. You can use QR codes to transfer URLs from your desktop computer to your phone. Using a free add-on or extension to your desktop browser, you can instantly generate a QR code for any web page that you would like to read on the go. Scan the code with your device, and the same page loads in your mobile browser.
Tips for effective QR coding
The key to effectively using QR codes is to start with a clear strategy in mind: What action do you want the person who sees your code to take? Will a QR code be the fastest way to complete that action? Find tasks that require multiple steps that you can bundle into one quick scan. You don’t want someone to take the time to scan your code only to be confused or frustrated with the experience. Here are some tips to make your QR codes a success.
- Be mobile savvy. If your QR code leads back to a website, ensure it’s linking to a mobile-ready page, so that it can be easily consumed on a mobile device.
- Clearly label your code. What does your QR code do? Provide a short description to make it clear what your audience should expect when scanning the code. “Share our message on Twitter,” or “Add event to calendar!”
- Be colorful. QR codes don’t have to be black and white. Any contrasting color will work, so get creative; try using your company’s branded colors or experiment with embedding a small logo in the code. You can remove a significant portion without affecting its scanability.
- Always test your code. Try using different apps on different devices to make sure that everyone can use your code. Also, test in the setting you expect your audience will be seeing it. Will your code be accessible and well lit when users scan it? Will network access be available?
- Don’t encourage spam. For any QR code designed to send preformatted messages, consider the likely community your information will be reaching. Will the message have real value for this audience or will they possibly resent seeing the same message repeated multiple times?
Build your QR code toolkit
The list of free QR code smartphone apps is lengthy, and many are regularly updated with new features. Here are some sites that generate free codes and mobile apps that not only read QR codes but will also let you generate and customize your own codes right in your phone.
- ZXing Project. The ZXing project (pronounced “zebra crossing”) is an open-source barcode image processing library that provides an interface for generating QR codes. It also provides a simple decoding tool, so you can discover what information is stored in an unknown QR code.
- QR Droid Zapper. Two apps in one, the QR Droid (Android) and Zapper Scanner (iPhone) apps both read QR Codes, store your history of scanned codes, and provide a robust set of tools to generate codes and customize them with colors and your own logos.
You can access many other QR code apps in your mobile platform’s app store. Additionally, there are many websites that not only generate highly customized QR codes for you but also offer subscription services to track user activity over time. Sites such as QRStuff, Visualead, and BeQRious provide a preview of your code with your company logo embedded in creative ways and various analytics tools.
Scanning the future
As more Internet traffic shifts to mobile platforms, the use of QR codes is likely to grow. The computing capabilities of mobile devices are also constantly increasing, and applications are taking advantage of that processing power to provide richer interfaces between the physical and digital realms.
Augmented Reality (AR) tools, such as HP’s Aurasma platform, superimpose digital elements—3D objects, videos, or graphics—into physical spaces as you view them through the camera on your mobile device. Aurasma can turn any real-life object into a trigger for multimedia related to that object. The digital objects actually appear in three-dimensional space relative to the physical objects.
AR is similar to QR codes in that they both bridge the physical and digital worlds, but AR provides a very place-specific experience, rather than simply transmit some relevant data for later use. AR holds great promise for promotions, gaming, and other uses, but even as power and sophistication of AR grows, the simplicity of QR codes will likely be the best solution for the tasks outlined here. A (QR) picture will still be worth a thousand words.