Battle of the Mobile Barcodes

Mobile Barcode Examples

If you’ve ever perused the pages of a Japanese cell phone magazine (what, am I the only one?!) you’ll recognize these little stamps that look like an old dot matrix printer went momentarily berserk. They’re actually the next big thing for mobile technology in Europe and the UK, and North America won’t be far behind.

The Japanese example — the top-left square — is called a Quick Response or “QR” code. It’s a brilliant idea — magazines publish them (they’re much smaller in practice) alongside articles and/or ads and readers scan them with their cameraphone. Some built-in software reads the codes and voilà — the user has a web link, phone number or secret message that’s saved directly onto their mobile!

There is an excellent free QR decoder available for non-Japanese handsets called The Kaywa Reader; it’s not officially available for my Nokia E61i, but thanks to an insider tip I downloaded the N80 version, which will read everything but the codes in my Japanese magazines — either because of the non-English characters or because those fancy Japanese keitai probably have 20-megapixel cameras on them by now… Boo-hoo for me!

A QR competitor has emerged in the form of Semacode, developed right here in Canada and based on an open software standard. That’s a Semacode image at the top-right.

This is the barcode standard that seems to be taking off across the pond, and since it’s an open standard there are a number of available readers for your cameraphone. The Kaywa Reader also supports Semacode, as does another free app from Taiwan called QuickMark. It reads QR Codes too, but here’s where it gets interesting…

QuickMark has their own proprietary code format — it’s the one at the bottom-left. Whereas QR and Semacodes can contain weblinks, phone numbers and even ready-to-send text messages, QuickMark goes even further and allows an entire address book entry to be encrypted onto a single stamp… Roll your own and see for yourself!

And never one to miss a party, the US and A has thrown their own barcode specification into the ring with ShotCode. That’s ShotCode at the bottom-right.

I predict that ShotCode won’t gain any traction beyond members of the National Rifle Association, and they’re too stupid to figure out how to use a high-functioning handset anyway…

QuickMark has potential and there are some other types of codes out there, but it looks to me like this nascent market is already a two-horse race between QR and Semacode. You’ll likely start seeing one or both them in magazines and on billboards very soon, and starting today on this very page… I now have a QR code link to a mobilized version of my site just for you and your cameraphone!

Oh, and by the way… The codes at the top of this page are all fully-functional — if you can decode ’em be sure to post your bragging rights in the comments!

By Andrew

Mobile phones, Linux and copyright reform. Those go together, right?


  1. Hi Andrew,

    The code under the QR Code is in fact not a semacode (which is based on the Datamatrix standard), but it’s a Quickmark code.

    Quickmark supports therefore both formats QR and their own code.
    Kaywa on the other hand supports both QR and Datamatrix (Semacode), the two ISO-Standards.


    As for the Reader for E61i, you should try it with the reader for N80 (3rd edition S60). Possibly it will work. Let me know.

    Best regards

    PS: To mobilize your blog and get a QR Code, you can also use

  2. Many NRA members have forgotten more about how to use a smartphone than you’ll ever know. Stick to the topic in a professional manner and forget the name calling, please. TIA.

  3. Ur.Limpytoo, er. Mr. Gunman:

    I’m not one to split hairs, but AC wasn’t name calling–he was being verbally abusive towards the members of the NRA.

    After all, words don’t hurt people, people hurt people.

    Ed Miller
    Witness Protection Program

  4. Thanks, man… Good to know you’ve got my back!

    I’ve got a surge in hits today because someone cut and pasted this entry into the Investor’s Hub Forums. Funny thing is, the guy’s “TIA” signoff probably means “thanks in advance”, but according to the Urban Dictionary it can also be an acronym for “typical ignorant American” — which is much more accurate, dont’cha think?

  5. Apologies to Roger from Kaywa at the top of the comments — yours made its way into my spam folder by mistake and I just caught it now. Someone from another company (you know who you are) cut and pasted a press release and tried to pass it off as a comment, but you took the time to actually respond to my post… My readers and I thank you for that!

    You are 100% correct about the QuickMark code in the graphic — I’ve edited this post to reflect that, and the fact that I can now use the N80 Kaywa Reader on my E61i!

    And your Feed2Mobile service will be covered in a future post about Web Site mobilizers… Keep up the great work!

  6. AC:

    speaking of spam, I’d heard of special interest groups who have people trolling blogs, on sites like WordPress or Blogger, looking for mention of their name in order to comment on any pro or con posts. I think it’s safe to assume that the en are eh poster here was one of those folks.
    I’ll cut it short as I have to set up my own blog about the evils of gub control….


  7. You would not believe the crap that’s in my comment spam folder!

    BTW, here’s what got me started on this whole bar code thing:

    I’d previously seen QR Codes all over Tokyo, but didn’t know there was software available for non-Japanese handsets…

  8. Hey AC, cool blog. You pushed me over the edge into what I’ve been wanting to do for a couple of weeks now; go get me an E61i. 🙂 I’m on the Mac as well, but will be using Nokia Maps through either BootCamp or Parallels.

    Anyway, did you notice that there appears to be a Semacode barcode on the back of the newer Nokia batteries? There is one on both the battery for my E61i, as well as the battery in my Nokia 6300. Now if only I could get the app working to check out what it says/does…

  9. I’m a member of both the NRA and Mensa. I have two engineering degrees and speak three languages. If you still choose to characterize me as “stupid” I suggest some introspection is in order. Given your inexplicably ignorant comment – “or you’ll shoot me” – I suspect you’ll blow off this suggestion in an equally ignorant manner.

  10. Well, Michael, seems like you’ve done a pretty job of using your Mensa powers to box me in — according to you, any answer but “you’re right, all hail Mensa and their superior intellect!” will result in me being ignorant.

    What to do? Oh wait, this is my site — I’ll just ban you. Thanks for playing. 😎

  11. Thanks for sharing the insider tip about the N80 Kaywa software version also working on the E61i. It indeed works like a dream.

  12. The code under the QR Code is in fact not a semacode (which is based on the Datamatrix standard), but it’s a Quickmark code.

    Quickmark supports therefore both formats QR and their own code.
    Kaywa on the other hand supports both QR and Datamatrix (Semacode), the two ISO-Standards.

  13. Anonymous, that correction was actually made in the first comment under this post… Thanks, though!

  14. Actually, QuickMark’s reader not only reads QR and their own code, but Data Matrix (Semacode) as well.

  15. Wow! My E71 reads two out of the four! I was pretty sure it read QR codes, but was pleasantly surprised to see that it reads the QuickMark codes too. I tend to agree that the “shotcode” is unlikely to gain much acceptance, since the vast majority of US phone users (and even retail cell phone stores) don’t even really know about the widely used QR Codes yet.

    On a side note, I do think it was a touch reactionary to ban someone merely for having a divergent viewpoint. That person may have called your comment ignorant, but your snarky joke effectively called his group stupid, which is worse.

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