I can't seem to make my mind up with this technology; but with Google now aggressively integrating QR codes into a lot of it's applications online AND offline, I can't help but wonder if the technological giant has something up it's sleeve. Developed by Denso Wave Inc. back in 1994 it's only now that some vendors are starting to realize it's online potential. Naturally there are a plethora (Shotcode, DataMatrix etc...) of other "2D Bar Code" technologies out there, but QR codes and the "Microsoft Tag" system seem to be leading the way with QR codes out in front.

...(QR codes) carry meaningful information in the vertical direction as well as the horizontal, hence the two-dimensional term. By carrying information in both directions, QR codes can carry up to several hundred times the amount of data carried by an ordinary bar codes. - Denso Wave

One of the real benefits of 2D bar codes and Microsoft's own "Microsoft Tag" system is the ability to embed URL information (amongst other things) and, with a suitable reader installed on your device, to be able to access that information and be sent straight to the embedded URL, to view additional information, view video content.

This isn't really what it's creators had intended for it. In case studies from Denso Wave's website, companies were originally using them to store additional information about the product they are printed onto. Instead of simply a price and description, they are storing weight, physical dimension and a vast array of additional data that can be used in more efficient manufacturing, warehousing and logistics operations.

Storing URL information seems to be the latest "trend" for these 2D bar codes but, in stark contrast to 1994 when they were conceived, this now has REAL value in our current internet ethnology.

Google Bets on QR Codes

One excellent example is something Google recently announced last week. They are supplying local businesses registered under their "Google Local Business Center" listings with window decals of QR codes embedded with URL information. Any "window-shopper" will, with a QR reader, be able to scan the code and be sent straight to the respective companies website. You might be thinking great, why not just go into the shop, BUT. Imagine at night, everything is closed, a casual glance, your wife likes that dress. Scan the QR code, view the shop details online, maybe even buy THAT dress there and then, right online.

Starbucks introduces QR code payment.
Other examples of QR implementation have recently been introduced by Starbucks. iPhone users who have downloaded their free "Mobile Cards" app. can now use their iPhone to pay for their Starbucks coffee. A virtual "Starbucks Card" in the form of your iPhone. It simply takes your Starbucks Card number and translates it to a QR code which the till attendant can register as payment. Maybe this is just the start, a seed, a catalyst for card less payment.

But wait... what of the humble Microsoft Tag system. Again Microsoft is a failure of it's own success. Not aggressively marketing it's technology. Surface, PhotoSynth, (note: Silverlight required to view this content) great technologies, great ideas, but I'm guessing most people haven't heard of them simply for lack of aggressive marketing.

Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages. The Microsoft Tag system comes with an obvious disadvantage as far as printing is concerned as it relies on a CMYK color palette, where as QR codes a single color only; typically black and white. However the flip side is that Microsoft's Tags are smaller. More information can be stored in less physical space. Because color is used as a form of data separation it uses the earlier mentioned disadvantage to it's advantage.

So what is the real-world impact of 2D bar code technology. I'm still not sure, but imagine being able to walk down a street at night, scan a window decal and shop for those products online. To be able to scan a QR code on product packaging and be taken straight to video's demonstrating the product, more information, even how to buy online. To show a till attendant your mobile device with a QR code displayed and being able to pay for things without having to carry a million cards around.

Will 2D bar code technology evolve or simply be a passing 'fad'. Evolution is only limited by imagination and for that reason I can see real-world applications for 2D bar coding technology.

Online QR Code Generators

Further Reading/Resources