Why are QR codes still a thing? Let’s look at trends, advantages, use cases, their adoption throughout the world, and some useful curiosities.
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2020 will be remembered as a year of unprecedented events. An easily overlooked one: the revival of the QR code, be it for tracking apps or for scannable menus on a restaurant’s table. Get to know better the QR code – and whether its usage may make sense for you.
First designed in 1994 for the Japanese automotive industry, the QR code is a two-dimensional (2D) barcode. Back in the time, car manufacturer Toyota demanded from its suppliers that car parts must be identified more easily. Thus, a subsidiary of Denso, one of Toyota’s biggest suppliers, invented the QR code.
QR stands for Quick Response. Thanks to its fast readability and great storage capacity, the code quickly became popular outside the automotive industry. But is it still relevant today? Yes ... at the right places.
Take your phone and discover where this QR code takes you:
Advantages of the QR code versus one-dimensional codes
QR codes have a lot of advantages when compared to one-dimensional (1D) barcodes like Code39 and EAN-13. Here are some of the most important:
1. More data: QR codes can hold up to 2.000 characters, while 1D barcodes can hold up to only 100.
2. Smaller: QR codes can be up to 10 times smaller than a 1D barcode containing the same information.
3. Error correction: QR codes can be dirty or damaged up to 30% and still be readable (depending also on the quality of the scanning software and device). 1D barcodes have no error correction.
4. Scanning angle: QR codes can be scanned from any angle thanks to its finder pattern, while 1D barcodes must be scanned in line with the code.
QR use cases
Because QR codes can hold much more information than 1D barcodes, all kinds of new use cases are being invented. An overview of the most common implementations:
- Redirect to a specific website/ URL
- Link to a photo or video
- Link to a social media channel
- Add a review of a company in Google
- Compose an e-mail with preset recipient and subject
- Call a specific phone number
- Send location coordinates using Google Maps
- Add a meeting to your agenda
- Add a contact to your phone or messenger app
- Automatically connect to a specific Wi-Fi network
- Contactless payments.
The option to automatically connect to a Wi-Fi network using a QR code can be especially interesting for restaurants, shops or other public places where customers often ask for the Wi-Fi network name and password.
Contactless payments using QR codes are also becoming more and more popular. This is how it works: a customer buys a product, takes his/ her phone and scans the QR code of the retailer. The phone shows the payment to be made and the customer confirms the payment on the phone. The retailer receives a confirmation within seconds. The advantage of this payment method is that it works fast, contactless and without any cash or bank cards. As contactless payment practically became standard in 2020, this use case alone makes the QR code an interesting option for many.
Different QR usage around the world
While QR codes are being used all over the world, still only limited research has been done on QR code usage. Most of the research is conducted by websites that offer QR code generators like Scanova and QRStuff. This being said, there are strong indicators that QR codes have become much more popular in some countries than others. The region with the highest usage of QR codes is South-East Asia, with China and India in particular.
Research by SIG, a leading firm in packaging, found out that about 8 percent of the consumers in Europe scan QR codes several times a week, compared to 50 percent of consumers in China. In general, Chinese are said to have an open attitude towards new technologies. Furthermore, WeChat (China’s equivalent of WhatsApp) has a built-in QR code scanner and supports contactless payments. In contrast, Europe still rather seems to choose the NFC chip as an alternative for QR codes when it comes to contactless payments.
Source: QR Code Statistics
The minimum size of a QR code that can be scanned by most smartphones can be easily calculated with this simple formula:
Minimum QR code size = Scanning distance / 10.
This means that a 2.5cm QR code in a magazine should be scanned on a distance of about 25cm distance. And a QR code on a billboard, 20 meters from the public, should be at least 2 meters large.
Did you know that the more data you put into a QR code, the smaller the black dots become? The density of the QR code is described by a version number ranging from version 1 to version 40. A version 1 QR code will have 21 rows and 21 columns of dots, and the version number will then increase by 1 for every 4 extra rows and columns: A version 2 QR code will have 25 rows and columns, a version 3 will have 29 rows and columns. Version 40 will have 177 rows and columns.
Each QR code has one of four levels (of error correction): L, M, Q, H. The level determines the percentage of the total QR code that is allowed to be dirty or damaged without being unable to read. Level L can be dirty/damaged for up to 7%, level M 15%, level Q 25%, level H 30%. The higher the percentage, the larger the dimensions of the QR code.
Now that you’ve practically become an expert in QR codes, the decision whether or not to implement them for user experience will hopefully be an easier one. For more on intelligent data capture technologies, I recommend this article that goes in depth on what they are and why they matter. If you want to read on about what to consider when it comes to your customer experience, find out which trends should drive your online strategy. And don’t hesitate to contact us here at Amplexor for an en-to-end digital strategy for your organization.
About the author
Wouter Boot is Business Consultant at Amplexor, located in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Wouter is working in the Content Capture & Intelligence team, which provides organizations with highly accurate, processing automation for documents.