Monday, May 18, 2009

Barcodes of the future


Last updated 11:39 21/04/2009

Picture this: you are out and about on a Saturday afternoon and see an advertisement at a bus stop for an outdoor concert.

In a corner of the advertisement are a couple of barcodes. Wanting to find out more about the concert, you pull out your 3G-capable mobile phone and take a picture of one of the codes.

It transfers you to the official website of the concert, where you find out that it is to be held tomorrow night and some of your favourite bands will be performing. However, the concert will be cancelled if it is raining. You take a picture of the next code, which transfers you to the latest weather information. Gutted! It's meant to rain.

As you walk along, you see another advertisement for the latest blockbuster film. Taking a photo of the code printed on the advertisement takes you to the session times for the film at the cinemas in your area.

Barcodes as we know them are meaningless to most people. But with the advancement of 3G mobile phone technology, 2D - or two-dimensional - barcodes could become one of the most useful consumer tools of our time.

2D barcodes were created by Japanese company Denso-Wave to track car parts, but have since developed into a tool that opens a world of opportunities for consumers. It is sometimes called mobile tagging.

2D barcodes contain information in both their horizontal and vertical indices, as opposed to the one-dimensional barcodes we normally see, for example, on supermarket products. These hold information only in the vertical index.

2D barcodes open up a world of opportunity. Imagine shopping at a supermarket and wanting to know that your fruit and vegetables are not genetically modified and the wine you will drink is of a good quality. A picture of the 2D barcode on the product's packaging leads you to a website where you can watch footage of the vegetables growing and the wine being made before you make your purchases.

Risa Takauchi, 22, of Osaka, Japan, first used the 2D Quick Response (QR) code a few years ago when she downloaded a discount coupon on to her mobile phone using a pre-installed barcode application.

Takauchi says she now uses the code several times a month. "I use it to get coupons or information about particular restaurants. At McDonald's I'll use it to get information on the food I'm eating, like calories and nutrition."

McDonald's Japan has the QR codes printed on the wrappers of their products linking consumers to nutritional information about the individual product.

Other codes printed by McDonald's lead to discount vouchers which can be redeemed by showing your phone at the front counter. This is the Japanese equivalent of

Takauchi believes the success of QR codes in Japan is the way it makes website access so simple. "You just take a photo of the QR code and it takes you to the website immediately. It is really easy to go to the website and see only the web page of the information you really want to know."

New Zealander Michael Smith, 20, was introduced to the 2D code technology by a friend who discovered it while in Japan. He created his own code via the website and used the 2D sense application on his iPhone to test it.

"It was very easy to use. I think they would be useful in accessing information you might want when you are out and about, such as weather or event information. One click and you are there. It saves time googling everything," he says

"Everyone has a cellphone these days. If organisations put the codes on bus shelters or billboards - things people see when they are killing time - I'm sure people would use them."

Smith would like to see the QR codes used in New Zealand for "more promotions, links to free stuff, vouchers and cool stuff like that".

New Zealand-born exporter Kupa Hokianga has been developing QR codes for New Zealand and Australian exports to Japan since 2006, and says the technology has allowed his company, Gallerie, to bypass multiple levels of distribution in Japan.

"We started from scratch two years ago, and now fly pallets of gourmet products monthly, selling direct to consumers, cafes and cooking schools," he says.

Using QR codes, clients are supplied with information regarding ingredients, health warnings, recipes and the country of origin, as well as having the option to receive newsletters and special offers.

Without having advertised in the mainstream media, Gallerie now has a database of more than 200,000 consumers.

While New Zealand is yet to adopt this technology, QR codes are being used in Australia, Britain and the United States.

Last year, Sony, in conjunction with Telstra Australia, used QR codes to promote the cinema release of the James Bond film, Quantum of Solace. The treasure- hunt promotion attracted about 10,000 entries.

It has been suggested that Australians will be using QR codes as a standard information portal within the next 12 months.

In Britain, softdrink maker Pepsi began a QR campaign at the end of 2008, printing codes on 400 million products. Through the code, users are transferred to a website where people can enter competitions and download games and wallpapers.

The QR code is open source, which is free to anyone to create a code for non-commercial use. To try the technology, go to

* Tania Butterfield is a journalism student at the University of Canterbury.

1 comment:

  1. Bit more information for your readers ..

    QR code news

    QR code forum

    QR code readers

    QR codes explained

    QR code social network

    QR code videos

    QR code slideshow