What is a QR code and how do they work?

qr code What is a QR code and how do they work?You might have noticed the increased chat about QR codes lately in New Zealand with them starting to appear in all sorts of media here. Yes, we’re finally catching up to countries like Japan, the US and UK, with kiwi companies starting to show an interest in how to use QR codes in their marketing.

In part 2 of this article (coming soon) we’ll be taking a look at how other companies are using QR codes for ideas and inspiration for your business. Before you get started with QR codes, let’s take a look at what a QR code is, the most popular QR code reader apps for your phone, how to generate QR codes for your business and the latest QR code statistics and research.

What is a QR code?

QR stands for Quick Response as they can be read quickly by a cell phone.

A QR code is basically a 2 dimensional barcode, also called a 2D code or matrix barcode, but instead of the linear pattern in 1 dimensional barcodes, a QR code is made up of a pattern of modules, typically black squares on a white background.

That’s not to say you can’t get creative with QR codes, like the image used with this article which is a code designed for Louis Vuitton by NZ based company Set QR NZ.

The beauty of QR codes over standard barcodes is they can store and digitally present a lot more data than linear barcodes. This includes URL links, geographic locations and text. Plus, instead of requiring a hand-held scanner to read them, most modern mobile phones can scan them.

In case you’re wondering where this cool new technology came from, in fact it’s not new at all, we’re just really behind the times here in NZ. It was first designed in Japan for the car industry by a Toyota subsidiary in 1994 to track vehicles during the manufacturing process.

How does a cell phone read a QR code?

Your mobile phone needs a QR code reader app installed first (newer smartphones tend to come with an QR reader app pre-installed).

Depending on your phone and the app, for most you simply open the app then point your phone’s camera at the QR code and it’ll auto-detect it. Some apps require you to select the type of barcode you want to scan, others you can just point your camera at the QR code without having to open the app first.

Not all apps are the same. Some are faster than others, some are better suited to different phone brands and models, others offer handy sharing and storing options, so it’s well worth trying a few to find the perfect one to suit you and your phone (and the good news is many of the apps are free).

What are the most popular QR code reader apps?

There are a lot of QR reader apps on the market, most are free or under $2 USD.

Here are 3 of the best:

  • Quickmark is one of the most top rated readers across all phone types. CNET voted it the top QR code reader app for iPhones. Get it here on itunes for your iPhone, or here for other phone types.
  • QR Droid routinely tops the reviews for Android use and was the only QR code reader to achieve a 5 out of 5 stars rating by PC World.
  • i-nigma claims to be the most widely used reader in the world and supports over 600 mobile phone models.

If you’ve got a QR reader app you love that’s not listed here, add it to the comments below for others to try. Don’t forget to let us know your phone model as well.

How do you generate a QR code?

You can easily generate a QR code for free using sites like Kaywa. Usually you select what type of content you want to create a QR code for, such as a page on your website (URL) or a section of text.

Google also has a QR generator tool but it’s got mixed reviews so far so try Kaywa for now. There are also lots of other free QR code generators you can find if you search online.

Who’s using QR codes?

QR code statistics out of the US for 2010 / 2011 found out that:

  • 52% of people had heard of and/or seen a QR code.
  • 28% have scanned QR codes.
  • 68% of scans were done on the Apple operating system.
  • 26% of scans were done using the Android operating system.
  • There was a 1,200% increase in scanning of QR codes from July to Dec 2010.
  • 62% scanned a QR code to go to a website.
  • 30% were motivated to scan a code to get a coupon.
  • 25% of people who scan QR codes are aged 35 to 44.
  • 22% are aged 18 to 24.
  • 22% are aged 45 to 54.
  • 64% of scanners are female.
  • Use of QR codes for making a payment grew 118% in the last quarter of 2010 (no doubt helped by Starbucks).
  • Most QR codes are seen on product packaging (56%) followed by magazine at 46% and coupons at 45%.

A couple of larger QR code studies include Mobio’s research in 2010 and JumpScan’s research which was published as an infographic in March this year on Mashable.

QR codes are now in mainstream use in many countries.

In the first half of 2011, QR code use by country saw the US and Japan leading the way, with the UK, Canada and Russia making the top 5. Data from the second half of 2011 found the US account for 51% of global QR code use.

How are companies using QR codes?

While you eagerly await part 2 of this article, which will have lots of ideas and inspiration from the practical to the highly creative for QR code use to market your business, here is a taste of what’s to come:

  •  Tesco created a virtual supermarket in a subway station with commuters doing their grocery shopping by scanning QR codes.
  • 30 examples of business cards incorporating QR codes in their design.
  • Selected Starbucks stores now accept payment by QR code. Customers register for a digital Starbucks card then simply scan their QR code at the counter to pay.
  • QR codes can be beautiful. This slideshow on Mashable features 15 of the most creative designer QR codes and check out Set QR NZ’s portfolio as well.
  • Diesel had shoppers scanning and browsing jeans that they like in store, which then posted an update on the shoppers Facebook page.

If you’re using QR codes in your business, share your experience by adding a comment and if you’ve got a preferred app then let everyone else know using the comments below.

PS – If you found this article helpful, please consider sharing it. You’ll see share buttons for Twitter, Facebook and more above and below. Thank you :)


  1. Jozanne says

    Great article. There is still a huge reluctance in New Zealand by companies to use QR codes. I guess we’ll catch up with the rest of the world soon.

  2. says

    Hi Jozanne, thanks for the feedback, glad you liked the article. I think the key is smartphone ownership in NZ. Once numbers get up (currently around 18% of phones in NZ are smartphones) then ability to scan QR codes will increase and companies will follow suit and they’ll become more mainstream as a marketing tool. It’s a bit ‘chicken and the egg’ though I think, if more companies embraced QR codes awareness and use would go up. Fingers crossed we catch up sooner rather than later :)

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