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!