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Barcode 101: QR Code = Kleenex

Part of what we try do here is educate and clear up any confusion around the mobile barcode space.  One big misunderstanding is the difference between QR Codes and 2D barcodes.  Often times, people use them interchangeably which is making a lot of people pretty confused.  While some may say its semantics, it’s really important at this stage in the technology to be educated around what is what.

2-D, or two-dimensional barcodes are really any geometric pattern of images or modules that can be read by an optical scanner.  Under that category, there is a wide variety of different code formats or symbologies.

One of those is called the QR or Quick Response Code which is widely used in Japan – the only mature 2D code market in the world.  Because of that, they have somehow turned into the default name for the 2D code category around the world.  In the US, many people refer to all tissue paper as Kleenex – which is just one brand sold by Kimberly-Clarke.  Or, some people may ask for a “Coke” even when they only sell Pepsi.  If someone asked for an apple, they would probably be pretty confused if they received a watermelon…

QR Codes can be very different than other types of codes formats, like Datamatrix or EZcode, which are actually more widely used in some developed countries.  For example, there is no official QR endorsement by any standards bodies in the US.  There are many properties of a QR Code which we won’t go into right now, but one big area is the data to size ratio; a QR Code contains the data directly in the code (therefore it is a “Direct” code), so the more data, the bigger or more complex the code will get.

Here is an example:

This code goes to so it is pretty small and simple:

This code goes to a deep link with a longer URL, so it gets much larger so a normal camera phone can read it.

The real value for 2D codes over time is its ability to link people directly to relevant content to shorten navigation.  So, sending someone to a landing page and asking them to click through to deep links is not as compelling as taking them directly to a specific URL – which can be quite long.

Yes, there are ways to get around the QR Code size issue (like using a URL shortener), and there are other code formats that do not use this same Direct model.

The main point here is that a QR code is just one type 2D code, which may be quite different than another.  Of course, please feel free to ask for Kleenex as much as you want!

  • Filed under: General, Support

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