Be There and Be Square

QR code: small square with a big future (photo: fotolia)
QR code: small square with a big future (photo: fotolia)

10 a.m. on Tuesday: On the way to a business appointment, you pass a new building with a sign outside that reads apartments for rent. You’re interested, but in a hurry. You quickly take a photo of a small, black-and-white square on the sign using your cell phone – and interior views of all the rooms in the apartments immediately appear on your screen.

10:30 a.m.: At your appointment, a new business partner gives you her business card, which also has a black-and-white square on it. You take a photo of it with your cell phone – and all the contact details are saved in an instant.

12:30 p.m.: On the way back from the office, you remember that you planned to watch a soccer match with your son that evening. You buy the tickets using your cell phone. The service center sends the tickets to your phone in the form of a small, black-and-white square.

8:30 p.m.: At the stadium entrance, you show the square on your cell phone to the official checking the tickets. The square is scanned – and you’re allowed in to watch the match with your son.

This square with a cryptic pattern has crept into many areas of our lives – from business to personal, and either viewable by the general public or just accessible to a certain circle of individuals. This square is known as a QR code.

Next page: Quick response with a click

Goodbye to troublesome typing: how QR code works  (screenshot: Basiswissen QR-Code)
Goodbye to troublesome typing: how QR code works (screenshot: Basiswissen QR-Code)

Quick Response with a Click

QR codes are a further development of barcodes, with which everyone is familiar from their local supermarket. But the information contained in a QR code isn’t the price, but rather a Web site, a community profile, or other data. QR codes are two-dimensional and are also known as two-dimensional codes or matrix barcodes, because they contain both horizontal and vertical information.

A special marking in three of the four corners shows which way round the code must be viewed. A wealth of information can be hidden behind this one small square. From contact data through airplane tickets, Web sites, and entire advertising campaigns – all types of information can be encoded using QR codes. QR stands for quick response. If the QR code is decoded using a cell phone, the term mobile tagging is also used. And now you’re spared the laborious task of keying Internet addresses into your cell phone, too.

The scanner is a Web-enabled cell phone with a camera that is used to photograph the QR code. A program then analyzes the code and interprets the information. To be able to deploy a camera phone as a QR scanner, you need reader software, which can usually be installed free of charge. Providers include Kaywa, BeeTagg (also for iPhones), CertainTeed for BlackBerrys, and QuickMark for Android phones. Some new cell phones – such as various Nokia models – already have the software installed upon purchase.

Next page: Buying tickets by phone

QR code as a ticket. bestellen = Order, bezahlen = Pay, empfangen = receive, einlösen = Redeem, Veranstalter = Event organizer (Screenshot: Basiswissen QR-Code)
QR code as a ticket. bestellen = Order, bezahlen = Pay, empfangen = Receive, einlösen = Redeem, Veranstalter = Event organizer (Screenshot: Basiswissen QR-Code)

Buying Tickets by Phone

Another use of QR codes is known as mobile ticketing. Here, you can use your cell phone to buy tickets for the movies, concerts, or sports events, and they are sent to your cell phone as a QR code. When you reach the venue, you show the code on your phone’s screen and this is scanned to check that it is valid. Tickets for public transportation, airplanes, or parking lots can also be bought using this method.

Special software is also available to enable computers to interpret QR codes. For example, you can take a picture of a code using a digital camera, and then decode it using a computer. This also works with SAP systems: Applications that run on Sybase Unwired Platform can be equipped with code readers.

Creating your own QR codes

Many reader providers also give users the opportunity to create their own QR codes online. The codes are generated using tools and can then be saved as an image and processed further, as the user pleases. Providers for generating codes include Kaywa, i-Nigma, BeeTagg, and Mobile Barcoder with a Firefox extension that transforms the URL currently displayed in your browser into a QR code. With SAP Business Suite software, you can create QR codes for print media (PDF) using Adobe Forms. For the Internet, QR codes can be generated in PNG format with the Web Dynpro ABAP development environment.

Next page: Playing with reality

Apartment for rent: The QR code shows you what it looks like inside (photo: SAP)
Apartment for rent: The QR code shows you what it looks like inside (photo: SAP)

Playing with Reality

The QR code was developed in 1994 by the Japanese company Denso Wave and was originally intended for use in automobile production. Today, the code has established itself globally as the carrier of a wide range of information. In Japan, QR codes are so common that they can be seen on almost every billboard.

In November 2007, the WELT KOMPAKT newspaper became the first print media to use QR codes in Germany. Readers of the print edition could scan the code to find out more about an article on the Internet. In November 2009, the magazine Esquire ran a major QR code campaign on the topic of augmented reality with the actor Robert Downey Jr. as the cover star.

From a tiny box under a press article to a conspicuously large square on a billboard, QR codes can be of virtually any size. You just need to be able to photograph them with a cell phone camera. Even entire building facades have been covered with a single QR code.