All you Need to Know about QR Codes

QR codes are two-dimensional codes that store information in black and white squares, which can be read using a smartphone or QR code reader. They have become ubiquitous in recent years, appearing on everything from food packaging to billboards. In this article, we will explore the full timeline of QR codes, their history, who made them, what the alternatives are, and why they are so important.

All you Need to Know about QR Codes
Written by
Carlos Virreira
Published on
April 3, 2023

Stoked to share some fun and fascinating facts I've uncovered about these nifty little codes. From their origins as inventory trackers to their current use in mobile marketing, QR codes have come a long way. Stay tuned for some mind-blowing tidbits!

QR codes are two-dimensional codes that store information in black and white squares, which can be read using a smartphone or QR code reader. They have become ubiquitous in recent years, appearing on everything from food packaging to billboards. In this article, we will explore the full timeline of QR codes, their history, who made them, what the alternatives are, and why they are so important.

History of QR Codes

QR codes were first invented in 1994 by a Japanese company named Denso Wave. The company, which is a subsidiary of the Toyota Group, created the code as a way to track car parts during the manufacturing process. The name "QR" stands for "Quick Response," which refers to the code's ability to quickly and easily store and retrieve information.

History of QR Codes

The first QR code was a black and white square that measured 1.6 cm by 1.6 cm, and it could store up to 7,089 numeric characters. Over time, the size and capacity of QR codes increased, allowing them to store more complex information, such as website URLs, contact information, and even entire vCard files.

In the early days of QR codes, they were primarily used for industrial applications, such as tracking car parts and managing inventory. However, as smartphones became more popular and widespread, QR codes began to find new uses in the consumer world.

QR Codes in the Consumer World

QR codes first gained widespread popularity in Japan, where they were used for a variety of purposes, including mobile payments, loyalty programs, and advertising. In 2011, QR codes exploded in popularity in the United States, thanks in large part to a marketing campaign by Macy's department store.

QR Codes in the Consumer World

The campaign, called "Backstage Pass," used QR codes to give customers access to behind-the-scenes videos and exclusive content. The campaign was a huge success, and it helped to popularize QR codes in the United States and around the world.

Since then, QR codes have become a common sight in many industries, including retail, marketing, and healthcare. They are used for a wide range of purposes, such as:

  1. Marketing and Advertising: QR codes are often used in advertising campaigns to provide customers with more information about a product or service. For example, a QR code on a billboard might link to a website where customers can learn more about a new product.
  2. Loyalty Programs: QR codes are used by many retailers and businesses as part of their loyalty programs. Customers can scan a QR code to earn points, which can be redeemed for discounts or other rewards.
  3. Mobile Payments: QR codes are often used for mobile payments in countries like China and India. Customers can scan a QR code to make a payment using their mobile device.
  4. Healthcare: QR codes are used in healthcare to store patient information and medical records. Doctors and nurses can scan a QR code to access a patient's medical history, allergies, and other important information.

QR Code Alternatives

While QR codes have become extremely popular in recent years, they are not the only option when it comes to storing and retrieving information using a smartphone. Here are some of the alternatives to QR codes:

  1. NFC (Near Field Communication): NFC is a technology that allows two devices to communicate with each other when they are in close proximity. It is often used for mobile payments and contactless transactions.
  2. Augmented Reality: Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that overlays digital information onto the real world. It can be used to provide customers with more information about a product or service.
  3. Beacons: Beacons are small devices that use Bluetooth technology to communicate with nearby smartphones. They are often used in retail environments to send targeted messages and promotions to customers.
  4. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification): RFID is a technology that uses radio waves to identify and track objects. It is commonly used in inventory management and supply chain logistics.
QR Code Alternatives

Each of these technologies has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the best option depends on the specific use case.

Why QR Codes are so Important

QR codes have become an important tool for businesses and organizations of all kinds. Here are a few reasons why they are so important:

  1. They are Easy to Use: QR codes are easy to scan using a smartphone camera or a QR code reader app. This makes them a convenient way to provide customers with more information or to facilitate transactions.
  2. They are Versatile: QR codes can be used for a wide range of purposes, from marketing and advertising to healthcare and mobile payments. They can store a variety of different types of information, including website URLs, contact information, and even entire vCard files.
  3. They are Cost-Effective: QR codes are a cost-effective way to provide customers with more information or to facilitate transactions. They can be printed on a variety of materials, such as paper, plastic, and metal, and they can be produced in large quantities at a relatively low cost.
  4. They Provide Valuable Analytics: QR codes can be used to track customer engagement and behavior. By analyzing data on how often and when customers scan QR codes, businesses can gain valuable insights into customer behavior and preferences.
  5. They are Contactless: In the age of COVID-19, contactless transactions have become increasingly important. QR codes provide a way for customers to make payments or access information without touching physical surfaces or interacting with others.
Why QR Codes are so Important

Conclusion

QR codes have come a long way since their invention in 1994. They have become a ubiquitous tool in marketing, advertising, healthcare, and many other industries. While there are alternative technologies available, QR codes remain a popular choice due to their ease of use, versatility, and cost-effectiveness. As businesses and organizations continue to look for ways to engage with customers and streamline transactions, QR codes will likely continue to play an important role in the digital landscape.

Did you know?

  • The largest QR code ever created was made in China in 2019. It measured 51,556 square feet and was made up of 130,000 trees.

  • In 2011, a group of hackers created a QR code that, when scanned, redirected users to a website featuring a rickroll (a popular internet meme involving a song by Rick Astley).

  • In 2012, a Japanese sushi chef created QR code sushi by placing edible QR codes on pieces of sushi. When scanned, the codes would provide information about the sushi's ingredients and origin.

  • In 2013, a company called Scan.me created a wedding cake with a QR code on it that, when scanned, played a video of the bride and groom's love story.

  • In 2015, a company called Digimarc created a QR code that was invisible to the human eye. The code could be scanned using a special app, and it could be placed on products to provide information or facilitate transactions without being visible to the consumer.

  • The first QR code to be placed on a tombstone was in 2013 in Japan. The code provided information about the deceased person's life and achievements.

  • In 2017, a company called Ricatech created a jukebox that could play songs when a QR code was scanned. The jukebox would display the lyrics of the song on its screen.

  • In 2018, a bar in Brazil created a QR code beer tap that allowed customers to order beer by scanning a code with their smartphones.
Article by
Carlos Virreira

Founder / Vision Lead at Shelf.nu

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All you Need to Know about QR Codes
Carlos Virreira
Co-Founder Shelf

Founder / Vision Lead at Shelf.nu

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