If you’ve been driving around town, watching television, shopping in a big-box retailer, or flipping through a newspaper or magazine (do people still do that these days???), you’ve probably seen something that looks like a Rorschach test – you know, the inkblot images you find in a psychiatrist’s office. No, advertisers are not trying to perform a psychiatric evaluation on you, at least not yet. They’re trying to get you to scan their code with your phone so you can learn more about their product through a web page, text message, or email.
What is a QR code?
A QR code, aka Quick Response code, is a two-dimensional bar code. The QR code “picture” is an encoded representation of the information that is contained within the code. In other words, every unique combination of text, numbers and characters generates a unique QR code. They can be a bit of a marketing gimmick, but when used properly, they can be an effective way to engage consumers. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s the link to an article about using them effectively for real estate – click here.
(For example, the QR code on this page is a direct link to this article. So if you have a QR code reader installed on your phone, you can scan it to read this article on your device.)
What do you do when you see one?
In order to access the information in a QR code, you can’t just take a picture of it with your phone’s camera. You have to have a special app on your phone that reads the QR code. It’s called a QR code reader, or a bar code scanner more generically since QR codes are two-dimensional bar codes (as mentioned above).
In order to get the information from the QR code, you’ll follow these steps:
- Open the QR code reader app on your phone.
- Follow the app’s instructions to read the code, which will involve pointing your phone at the QR code. You should see an interface in the app that feels as though you’re going to take a picture.
- Some apps will automatically scan the code once it’s in the viewfinder. Others will require you to perform an action like taking a picture.
At this point, the QR code is read. The app will ask you if you want to take the action suggested by the QR code. Common actions include going to a web page, sending an email or text, making a phone call, or adding information to your address book or calendar.
There are many options for QR code readers in the App Store. I did a quick search using the term “QR code reader” and came up with over 25 of them, most which are free. There’s really no reason to pay for a QR code reader, most free ones will do the job.
Of the readers I tried, my favorite for iOS is RedLaser. It’s geared a bit more towards comparison shopping than generic QR code reading, but that’s what I like about it. It’s a 2-in-1 app! It’s also very easy to use. Simply open the app, tap the viewfinder icon in the upper right hand corner, point your phone’s camera at the code, and RedLaser reads it.
If you’re scanning a UPC symbol, RedLaser will immediately bring up a price comparison list (very handy), and if you’re scanning a QR code, it scans the code and then lets you decide if you want to take action or not. Overall, it’s very fast, and it’s very handy if you like to do a lot of comparison shopping.
If you’re looking for an alternative to RedLaser and something that’s a bit more bare bones, you can try the QR Reader app instead.
Android QR code readers
As with iOS, a search for QR code readers in Google’s Play Store will turn up many options. Of those, Barcode Scanner is my personal favorite, although I’ll occasionally use RedLaser for Android as well.
The reason that I like Barcode Scanner is for its simplicity and slim user interface. To read a QR code, you simply open the app and point it at the code. Barcode Scanner reads it, and asks you if you’d like to take the action. Just like RedLaser, it also doubles as a UPC reader and can launch a Google search to find the best prices on items. So in addition to being a great QR code reader, it can also be a money saver!
RedLaser is an excellent alternative to Barcode Scanner, and you can even use Google Goggles. Google Goggles also does a lot more than read QR codes, including business card scans. So it is another multi-function app that you may want to check out.
What’s next? Go download a QR code reader for your phone and test it on a couple of QR codes and barcodes lying around (including the one above). You’ll quickly get the hang of it and be a barcode reading expert in no time.