What you need to know about QR codes and the future of print engagement with mobile

by Shawn Smith on April 5, 2008

QR code in San Jose Mercury News - Flickr photo by Chika

Image by Chika

Newspaper execs have been banging their heads for the past few years at understanding what’s the next step in the mobile market for news. What do consumers want? How do newspapers engage mobile phone users? How do consumers want to receive news on their mobile devices?

Asia may have an answer with QR codes.

Stay tuned for a series of articles that will discuss the use of QR codes, how they will revolutionize and make print relevant in a digital society and how to get started using them.

First, let’s start with understanding them.

What are QR codes?

QR codes, or Quick Response codes , are two-dimensional bar codes used for commercial tracking and print-to-mobile-to-web messaging, or physical world hyperlinking . Created by a Japanese company in 1994, QR codes are a ubiquitous part of life in parts of Asia.

These jumbled graphics can contain messages and URLs that can be quickly transferred to users’ mobile devices. And they can appear just about anywhere – from magazine articles to food wrappers to earrings.

How QR codes work

QR codes will revolutionize relationship between newspapers and consumers Ever have a lot to say and not enough room to say it? You may not be disgruntled for too much longer.

Quick Response images crunch data down into a graphic which can be viewed at any size readable by a digital camera (including camera phone) or scanner. These images can encode up to 4,296 alphanumeric characters – Does that sound like enough for a newspaper brief?

Besides their high capacity for data encoding, according to the creator of QR codes, other features include :

  • smaller possible printout size than traditional bar codes
  • compatibility with multiple language’s alphabets and characters
  • resistance to dirt and damage
  • readability from any angle!

How QR codes are used

Consumers just need a camera phone and some phone software to use QR codes. That’s it!

QR codes are being slapped up on just about everything in Asia. Here’s just a few examples (via David Harper ):

See QR code in action on the BBC:

Detractors of QR codes in the U.S.

Some say the U.S. won’t likely become big users of these codes for a while because “the technology isn’t there” or “Americans are too slow to adopt new technologies.”

Pshhhhhh. This is the type of thinking that helped Newsweek print an article that the web would never take off .

There’s a learning curve, that’s true. Consumers have to understand the purpose of these codes and learn how to use them. Fine. But not having a plan for that eventuality will put newspapers further behind other media.

Currently, cellular carriers are closely watching a San Fransisco trial-run of QR codes by Citysearch and Antenna Audio, sfgate.com reports (via Gizmodo ).

What’s next?

This week I’ll be posting:

You can also check my QR code stories archive to see all the stories that will be in this series.

Please share your observations on how print can tap the power of these marketing wonders.