Matt Peperell's Blog

Q for 'QR Codes'

Written: 19 Apr 2024 (Index by date)

Tags: a-to-z  tech  (Index by tag)

Continuing the A-to-Z Challenge, today’s letter is Q and the topic is QR Codes.

First off, what are they? The abbreviation QR code is short for “quick response code”. They are the black and white small pixelated squares that we can “scan” with a dedicate device or (more commonly) our mobile phones.

Here’s one which links to the Wikipedia page for QR codes.

QR code which links to the Wikipedia page for QR codes

I first encountered QR codes in the early 2010s. At the time they were seen, outside of industry, as niche, obscure and somewhat faddish, perhaps even with a bit of ridicule. But it seems that very quickly they became more widespread and accepted.

Event publicity posters will often contain a QR code linking to the event page so that one does not have to type in the URL manually, an error-prone process. They’re also used for self-printed train tickets in the UK (previously one would collect tickets from a machine, the kind of tickets which have a magnetic strip on the reverse).

In doing research for today’s post, I learned that they were considerably older than I thought - having been invented in 1994. Traditional 1-d barcodes were first used in a retail context in 1974. Small nostalgia story: using this fact helped win me and a housemate a year’s supply of beer in 2004. Rather amusing as he doesn’t drink at all and I don’t drink beer.

Around a month ago I saw a coloured version of something similar, using pixels of cyan, magenta yellow and black. I forget what it was on but that same week (same day, I think) I saw another one on a breakfast cereal box.

NaviLens code which is for breakfast cereal

As can be seen in the text adjacent to the matrix code, it’s a variant of QR codes with the brand name “Navi Lens”. It’s a Spanish company and the IP is patented technology rather than being an open standard but I still think it’s a great idea because it solves some of the accessibility problems that traditional QR codes have.

As best I can tell, the reader app is free for end users. I wonder what their funding model is; in other words how can the idea last? Perhaps it’ll be done on a licensing basis like QR codes (which are also patented).

Have you used either? I’m particularly interested in the use of NaviLens to learn how the usability and accessibility compare.

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