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Android App Barcodes (QR Codes) Explained

written by: Daniel Kolobaric•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 9/13/2010

QR codes have become a popular way of providing a user with background information on any product. However, what is the origin of the code, why has it become necessary and what are the main advantages in everyday life? Furthermore, how can an Android phone be used to scan these codes?

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    QR codes or ‘Quick Response’ codes are a form of barcodes that have recently become popular due to the emergence of various smartphone platforms. The QR code has emerged as the next generation of barcodes, and basically they share the same functionality as traditional barcodes, which is the storage of (a variety of) characters. The main visual distinction, however, between a barcode that can be found on for instance supermarket products and a QR code is that the latter contains information in a two dimensional (2D – Horizontal and Vertical) form and the ‘regular’ barcodes in one dimension (1D – only horizontal).

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    Main Advantages

    QR codes emerged in Japan as an alternative to regular barcodes. The main, and most important advantage of the QR code over original barcodes is the amount of information they can store. Whereas the original 1D barcodes can only contain approximately 20 digits, QR codes are able to store up to 7,089 digits. Besides numbers, QR codes can store Alphanumeric, Binary (8bit) and even Kanji characters. As such, QR codes can contain any kind of information that involves any form of the above-mentioned code. It is needless to say that they act as a far better container of information as compared to regular barcodes.

    Besides the advantage of increased information storage QR codes offer a greater range of advantages. For instance, these ‘2D’ codes require a lot less space to contain the same information as a ‘1D’ barcode does, without losing the ability to be quickly scanned. QR codes can also be printed in any position as they contain ‘position detection patterns’ to determine which way is up. Furthermore damage resistance is a feature as information can be restored even if some part of the code is missing (up to 30%).

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    Practical Usage

    2 Player Reactor QR Even though already invented as early as 1994, QR codes were not standardized internationally until June 2000. When QR codes first became available they were used for the identification of car parts and mostly applied in the automotive industry. As such their application is any situation where quick scanning of a large quantity of information is required. The application possibilities of the QR code are truly endless as it acts as the only necessary link between an information provider and a receiver. Many media platforms have discovered the popularity of the medium, resulting in QR codes now being found in a large variety of places. This includes for instance magazines, newspapers, product packaging, posters, festivals, concert venues, museums, public transportation and even business cards. As no one can determine the information contained by just looking at them, many users are intrigued and will scan the codes to find out. Many companies also found a use for QR codes as marketing tools; an efficient way to keep an advertisement ‘clean’ while still providing an interested observer with a wealth of information through the code.

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    QR Codes and the Android Platform

    QR codes have been increasing in popularity to such an extent, that it has now become the scanning tool of choice for the Android platform. In order to be able to ‘discover’ the information behind any QR code, not much else is needed besides an Android phone with a built in camera and an application that transforms the camera into a barcode scanner. Numerous free options are available in the Android Market for this purpose. Popular apps include ‘Barcode Scanner’, ‘ShopSavvy Barcode Scanner’, ‘Barcode Generator / Reader’ and ‘ixMAT Barcode Scanner’. All these options will decode a given QR code and provide further options to apply the scanned code, which is often a link. Many options even give the user the option of scanning the ‘1D’ barcode versions. Turning your Android phone into a barcode scanner truly emphasizes the ‘smart’ aspect of your smartphone!

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