Posted by: Arild | May 12, 2011

Connecting the physical world with the virtual world using QR codes

The following blog post is adapted from a presentation I did internally at Capgemini Stavanger. The presentation was done as a 12 minute “lighting speech” to give the audience a brief introduction to QR-codes and what they can be used for.

All the mobile screen shots were made on my HTC Desire where i used “Barcode scanner” to scan the QR codes.

A brief introduction to the QR code

  • Short for Quick Response
  • A 2 dimensional bar code
  • Unlike most 1D barcodes, the QR code stores information, not just an ID
  • Designed for high speed decoding
  • Created by Denso Wave for Toyota in 1994
  • One of the most popular types of 2D bar codes
  • Free of any license
  • Defined and published as an ISO standard

QR codes are a great way to create better user experiences by creating a bridge between the physical with the virtual world.

What can they do for me?

Store text

QR codes can be used to store a simple, unformatted text message. Below is a sample of text messages and their corresponding QR tag.

  • Short text
  • Short text = small tag
  • Longer text equals a more detailed tag.
  • Longer text equals a more detailed tag.
    The longer the text, the more detailed the tag.
  • Longer text equals a more detailed tag.
    The longer the text, the more detailed the tag.
    However, more detailed tags are also harder to read, so keep that in mind and don’t put too much text into your tags! 😉

Notice that in the last tag with more text you also get more error checking and position indicators.

Scanning the last QR code will simply give you the text on your mobile with a few options:

Store URLs

The most frequently used feature of QR codes is to link to websites. Just like with text, longer URLs make more detailed QR codes that are more difficult to read.

Remember that if you use an URL shortening service, the actual URL remains hidden until the user clicks the link. Users are more likely to trust a link that they can verify as valid than a shortened link.

Scanning the QR code will show you the URL and give you the option to open the website in your browser:

By selecting “Open browser” you open the page in your default browser (below).

Store phone numbers

A less frequently use of QR-codes is to store phone numbers. I can see that this can be useful if you have a long support phone number, but typing a phone number is usually not that much hassle.

  • +47 912 34 567

Scanning this code lets you choose to dial the number or store it in your contact list.

Choose “Dial number” and you go to the pre-filled dialing screen (below).

Store e-mail addresses

A tag that stores an e-mail address lets you choose to either send an e-mail to the address, or add it to your contacts. The tag below contains my company e-mail in Capgemini.

Scanning this tag gives you the option to write an e-mail to this address, or add it to your contact list.

If you choose to “Send email”, you get to choose your e-mail client, and it takes you directly into “new email”-mode with the “to”-field filled in.

Store SMS Messages (ready to send)

This feature may be useful for SMS-campaigns. It lets you pre-define an SMS with both the text and the phone number to send it to.

  • Pre-written SMS message containing the word “SUBSCRIBE” sent to “+47 912 34 567”.

When the tag is scanned you get to choose if you would like to send it as SMS or MMS.

If you choose SMS, the SMS screen pops up with a completed SMS message ready to send.

Store geo locations

One of the more interesting features is the possibility to store geographic locations.

  • The location of the Capgemini office in Stavanger.

Upon scanning the tag you can choose to show the location on a map, or get directions to the location from where you are.

The location for the Capgemini office. Notice that I included a search phrase because there are several companies located at the same address. This makes the result more accurate. Otherwise it would have said “Maskinveien 24, Best communication Øst and 11 others”. Not very helpful.

Store contact information

One of my favourite features is the QR-contact info tag. This encodes a vCard as a QR code with all of your contact information. Great to put on your business card. Saves people the hassle of typing your details into their phone and lets them know how tech savvy you are. ;p

  • My business card in Capgemini (note that the phone number is fake. ;))

Scanning my QR business card brings up all the info in the card along with a few options for what to do with it.

If you choose to “Add contact”, the contact page pops up with all the information pre-filled. All you have to do is click “Save.

Store calendar events

Another great use, that I wish I had seen more of is encoding events as QR codes. You can store all the information you need about an upcoming party, conference, meeting, trip or gathering of any kind in the tag.

  • Perfect to include in invitations.

The tag can store a title, start, end, location and a description.

When you click “Add to calendar” your calendar pops up with all the information about the event. Just add your reminders and click save.

Store wireless network information

This is another overlooked feature of QR-codes. You can connect to a wireless network by simply scanning a QR code. The code contains network name, password and encryption type.

  • Below is a sample WiFi-tag

When the tag is scanned you can verify the information about the wireless network before you click “Connect to Network”.

The phone will take a few seconds to set up the network…

…and once you are connected you will be presented with your start page.

This would be great for hotels and event centers where you get a temporary WiFi-login (usually a ten character string of random numbers and letters for both the username and the password that take for ever to enter on your phone).

Sounds great! How do I make them?

There are several QR code generators on the web. Here is a list of the ones I have used:

I primarily use zxing, but beqrious has a nice feature where you can add an image to the centre of an URL-tag.

OK, let’s start scanning! Where can i get a scanner?


The best scanner I have found for Android is “Barcode Scanner”. i-nigma is another scanner with a nicer interface, but it only supports the most basic types of QR codes. Both are free and can be downloaded from Android Market.

  • Barcode Scanner
  • i-nigma


For iPhone there are a couple of good scanners I have had recommended. Let me know if you have any better suggestions. 🙂

  • Qrafter
  • QR Reader

When do I use QR codes?

There is probably no correct answer for this, but I would say that when you want to take a user experience from the physical world and continue it with added value on a mobile device, it would be a good time to resort to QR codes.

Let me know if you find a good use of QR codes in your projects! 🙂

Here are a few examples where QR codes are used:

Sign a petition using this QR code in Times Square.

QR codes on graves in Japan gives you more information about the person.

Find more information about your favourite wine.

Ad for a the DVD for “28 weeks later” in London.

Find more information about this apartment for sale in Toronto.

Get more “friends” with this t-shirt! 🙂

Some cities in Norway have started to use QR-codes on bus stops. Scan the code to get the next departure from your current location. Great example of bridging the physical world with the virtual world. 🙂

Read more about QR-codes on Wikipedia.



  1. I had the pleasure of being part of the audience when Arild gave his lighting talk on QR, and it was an eye-opener to many people who finally understood what QR-codes are all about and saw its possibilitis. A great talk by Arild, and by putting the presentation online, even more people could learn from Arild’s expertice on this area.

    • Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  2. The event part was smart. When posting adds to sell your apartment; include an QR code in the ad. The same goes for all arrangements published in papers and magazines.

    And guess who’ll use your business card idea on his new card 🙂

    • Should be the global standard for business cards. 😉

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