QR codes have experienced an impressive boost in popularity in recent years, moving out of the tech backwaters and establishing themselves squarely in the mainstream. We can now see QR codes almost everywhere we look, adorning everything from physical advertisements deployed on public transport to the pages of our favorite social media platforms.
But what are QR codes exactly? Why are QR codes so much better than something that is already familiar to us, like a barcode? And what is the potential of this interesting piece of tech innovation? We'll be answering all of these questions as we explore everything you need to know about QR codes.
QR codes -- or Quick Response codes, to give them their full title -- can trace their development as far back as the 1970s, when barcode technology first became ubiquitous in retail. It was not until 1994, however, that code scanning technology evolved into the form we know today. And the QR code was born.
This monumental event occurred in Japan and was initiated by Japanese automobile manufacturers in search of an efficient and effective way to keep track of parts in their facilities. Over the last two and half decades, these handy codes have made their way off the factory floor and into more widespread usage, as increasing numbers of business owners and customers tune in to the benefits that this technology offers.
So what makes QR codes so revolutionary? After all, the code itself is basically just an extension of the humble barcode -- a user scans the code with a device, and the device will display the information contained within.
Well, this only tells part of the story. In fact, QR codes take this basic level of capability and expand upon it greatly. These codes are crucial for five main reasons:
A barcode is simply a very basic graphic that represents a numerical value. This numerical value is loaded into a database and attached to other qualitative and quantitative values; for example, product descriptions and stock levels. A QR code can contain a far greater level of information, across many different mediums, including images, GPS coordinates, URL links and text files.
Standard, unidimensional (linear) barcodes work just fine in a location such as a store, where there are pre-installed barcode scanners connected internally to a stock system. They are not so useful out in the wider world, where such technology is unavailable. QR codes can be accessed via a smartphone device. In 2020, there were close to 4 billion smartphone users worldwide, making QR codes far more broadly accessible. What's more, this number is growing year on year, which means increasing numbers of individuals are going to be able to utilize QR codes in the near future.
QR codes feature a singular look that is instantly recognizable among consumers. They can be deployed on any flat surface and protected from the elements by a plastic covering or lamination. This makes it easy for marketers, businesses owners, and anyone else with a message to deliver to get their information across quickly and easily.
A survey from 2020 found that 83% of respondents had scanned a QR code at least once, with 72% scanning a QR code within the previous month. This demonstrates the high levels of engagement we are already seeing in relation to QR technology -- levels that look likely to increase in the coming years. Individuals across all age groups are quickly learning how to scan QR codes, and this is making them invaluable to marketers.
QR codes are the only codes that boast native support for all smartphones models. All the latest smartphone models offer the option to recognize and read QR codes from their main menu, without requiring a dedicated code-scanning app. Browsers now offer this support, as well. Google Chrome for iOS, Microsoft Edge, Firefox and Samsung Internet allow users to scan a QR code in the browser straight from their navigation bar.
We've already looked at the benefits of a QR code, but can we use it in an effective manner? How can businesses and other organizations deploy the codes with optimal results? Let's take a look at some of the use cases for this handy piece of technology.
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