Quick Response Codes are widely used abroad as a tool to connect users to text and websites and can hold photos, voice, video clips and games. The technology is catching on in India too, writes Geeta Padmanabhan

In 2008, AdaptivePath sent design researchers to a remote village in Gujarat to check how mobile phones were used there. Out of that research comes this endearing tech story: Rinku, a trinkets-maker gets a second-hand phone from her husband to help herself in business. Rinku learns how to receive and make calls, but can't decipher other features like “contact”. She cannot read and her mobile phone uses text as the primary cue for navigation. She finds the iconography “confusing and indistinct.”

Rinku's friend Rani takes her to a store that has an answer. The storekeeper snaps Rinku's photo, prints out a small card and demonstrates how it works. The funny black-and-white square on the card is a special code — the Quick Response or QR Code. It carries her picture, name and phone number that she can send to clients. On this new interface (Mobilglyph) all functions are images instead of text. Overjoyed, Rinku stores information without having to manually enter text or numbers.

Store of information

The latest product-promo card from a well-known city jeweller carries a QRC square. “Scan it with your cellphone,” says one of the employees at the store. “It takes you directly to the web page of our store. No typing, no mistakes. You see the latest diamond collection, click on the thumbnail sketch, choose the one you like and call us.” To order and pay. “If you use a search engine, you'll log on, find our website and collection, run through categories such as antique, platinum and diamond, and select what you want. QRC is simplified technology.”

Invented by Denso Wave, a Toyota subsidiary in 1994, QRCs are used widely abroad, mostly as a tool to connect literate users to text and websites. They can hold photos, voice, entire video clips and games with Mobile Multi-colour Composite, a 2D barcode. Their use as a physical information token is still uncommon, but India is moving towards making its destiny with QRC technology.

Familiar icon

“These squares with indecipherable pictures now appear on posters, travel tickets and wall banners,” says Rajesh in an interesting QRC post on yaxislive.com. Drag the mouse over the first square and you read, “Greetings from Rajesh Kumar. Should you be in getting in touch with me (sic), please leave a comment behind.” QR encoded messages are meant to be read by apps on smartphones such as those running on Android, Apple, Blackberry or Symbian (Nokia), he says. You instal an app ZXing (Zebra Crossing) for Android phones or i-nigma reader for all platforms. The app scans the graphic vertically/horizontally, decodes the message and even suggests the next course of action.

Obviously, QRC's marketing potential is huge. Hyundai i10 ad's graphic has an encoded telephone number. The QRC on a banner next to the Galapagos tortoise enclosure at the San Diego zoo sports a URL to a page of information about the species. McDonald's India product launches have glowboards and posters showing QRCs between bun slices. On QRC mazes companies can place pre-formatted sms messages (“Hi, can I test-drive the car?”), standard e-mails that can be sent from personal or official accounts, venue maps on passes/tickets/conference invites, or a package of details to reach the business representative. You don't type a single thing, just scan and send. “QRC can capture over 4000 alphanumeric characters,” says Rajesh. “Decoding a punchline message is fun, and creating a cap or T-Shirt with a QRC on it conveys you're ahead of the curve!”

Varied uses

So use QRCs to make a video commercial viral, spread a web URL for an issue-based campaign, get people to vote on TV channels, drive traffic to your blog/Facebook/Twitter/social-network profile and YouTube channel, invite guests to a wedding, announce a “We have moved” address of your office/showroom with a GoogleMap, enable your coffee shop customers to log into your WiFi hotspot without hassle, publicise the appStore link of your new iPhone application, or make your cellphone screen your business card.

“Once the barcode image is created, it can be printed on almost any surface and location — newspapers, brochures, billboards, TV ads, temporary tattoos, product packaging, labels, cake frosting and more,” says Syed Alaudeen, SEO, SEM & Web Analytics Consultant, Chennai. When adopted by the print media, QRCs can give people access to their multimedia content, videos and options to answer a quiz. Hyper interactive!

In a country of 800 million mobile phone users, QRCs should provide the next big marketing tools.

MORE ON THE MATRIX

* The most popular 2D barcode formats are QRC, DataMatrix, ScanLife, EZcode, and Microsoft Tag. But the name QRC has come to stay.

* The number of unique combinations of pixels that can be made out of the 2-dimensional QRC is far greater than those in traditional one-dimensional barcodes.

* QRC is made primarily for smartphone users. It can be read by QR barcode readers or cellphone cameras.

* Favourite site for creating QRCs for free is www.QRstuff.com

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012