So 2020 is nearly over and what a year it has been. All industries (except maybe PPE) have been hit hard by Covid-19, but there is one good thing to come from the pandemic, mainly for the tech industry but for other industries too… the rise of QR codes.

What are QR codes?

For those who have had their head buried in the sand, QR codes are digitally-generated black and white square images, containing blocks placed in certain positions. Thanks to the positioning of these blocks, when QR codes are scanned using a compatible software application via camera hardware, certain data can be read from them.

Where did they come from?

According to Wikipedia, they were originally invented in the 90s by a subsidiary of Japanese car manufacturer Toyota to identify parts of a car in the production line. When smartphones gained onboard cameras, this technology really took off, but slowly lost traction until as of recently.

What is a QR code used for and why has it suddenly become more popular?

Many types of data can be embedded in QR codes such as email addresses, phone numbers, Wi-Fi credentials and most commonly URLs (also known as web links). With Covid-19 spreading in local businesses such as pubs, restaurants, gyms and hairdressers, the need for contactless technology has risen and one of the most favoured methods is QR codes. Many track-and-trace softwares make use of QR codes to allow guests to check in to a business location, without the need to type in lengthy URLs or text-based codes. Many table ordering systems make use of QR codes to link guests to a digital menu, of which they can make their order from. Many posters contain QR codes on them in order to share more information or to take you to an action page such as a sign-up, contact or booking form.

How to scan a QR code (newer devices)…

Most mobile smartphones these days are equipped with a camera which can be used to scan QR codes either using the default camera app. Any iPhone running iOS 11 or above, the first Google Pixel device or above and the Samsung Galaxy S8 device or above have all been confirmed to support scanning QR codes using the default camera app. You may need to check with your smartphone’s manufacturer website if you have any other device.

How to scan a QR code (older devices)…

If your device doesn’t support scanning QR codes using the default camera app, not to worry, you can always download a QR code scanner app to give you that functionality. Just search for “QR code scanner” in your phone’s app store. Some media-focused social media apps such as Snapchat are also capable of reading QR codes.

How to generate QR codes…

I have used many QR code generation websites, but the easiest and simplest (sometimes the best solutions) one I found was the website goqr.me. It supports all the embedded data types I mentioned earlier, plus more. If you’re a developer like me, you can find many QR code libraries for your favourite programming language on code-sharing websites like GitHub.

Wrapping up and some interesting uses of QR codes…

So there you go, I’ve just bored you to death about QR codes. To a techie like me, they are fascinating and I enjoy seeing existing technology being resurrected and people finding new uses for it. That’s what technology is all about, innovation.

Anyway to finish, here’s a few interesting uses of QR codes I stumbled upon on the interwebs…

  • China’s popular social media app WeChat uses QR codes for people to make and take payments.
  • YouTuber MattKC embedded an entire offline playable game of snake inside a QR code.
  • Cashier-less Amazon Go stores use QR codes to identify users as they enter a store in order to track the items they pick up and bill them when they leave the store.