Quick Response Encoding

A little while back prompted  by a discussion doing the rounds on the Academy technical group I had a bit of a look into quick response codes (QR Codes).  These are a type of data matrix represented by a collection of  pixels in a square grid that are usually used to represent something like a URL.

A number of pieces of software are available for today’s camera equipped mobile phones that allows these images to be decrypted and acted upon.  For example a QR code on a poster may allow a user with a suitably equipped mobile phone to take a snapshot of the code and immediately be taken to a particular web site on their phone’s browser.

Many phones come preloaded with the software and one of the most popular QR code readers is the Kaywa reader, however at the time my work phone was an HTC phone and Kaywa doesn’t support HTC phones.  Instead I managed to find a reader from a site called QuickMark.

The QuickMark reader seems to work as well as the Kaywa reader so there were no problems there and both are simple to use.

Both sites also offer encoding services.  Here I think there is a big difference…

The Kaywa Encoder is very simple to use and gives you the option to encode:

  • URL - simply the URL for a web site
  • Text - a piece of text
  • Phone Number - a telephone number
  • SMS - a phone number and a short piece of text to send

The URL I’ve already discussed, but the text can be used to do things such as reveal promotional information such as a web site password for a special offer or simply a fun message.  A phone number could be useful on a web site to save someone having to type it into their phone to call you. Finaly a predefined SMS could be used to request information to be texted back to the sender.  All fairly useful stuff I guess.

The Kaywa Encoder also allows you to select the size of the resulting PNG image to be produced upon encoding  - small, medium, large or extra large.

So what does the QuickMark Encoder have to offer?  Well it has lots more to offer … but it is a little bit harder to use.  First of all the list of things that can be encoded is much more extensive:

  • Website - a URL
  • Bookmark - a URL and a name for the bookmark
  • Phone call - a phone number
  • Send SMS - a phone number and a short piece of text to send
  • Send Email - an e-mail address, subject line and some content for the body of the message
  • Address Book - some basic contact details
  • meCard - contact details in meCard format (more than the address book option)
  • vCard - contact details in vCard format (more than the meCard option)
  • Text - a piece of text
  • Encryption - a piece of text encypted with a text based key
  • Partial Encryption - a display, an encrypted message and a text based key
  • Magic Jigsaw - a small image
  • Geographical Coordinates - a Google Maps location

Whilst some of these seem a little pointless to me the range is quite simply amazing as there’s even more listed under China Mobile DIY - presumably for QR code readers on mobile phones in China.

It doesn’t end there either.  The QR code can be downloaded in a number of file formats including PNG, GIF, JPG and SVG.  there’s also an option to view it as “raw text” which I guess is what the readers actually decodes it to and then executes.

So what about the size?  Well this is hidden away under advanced an option (found in the menu links on the left of the page).  It’s the last option and actually allows you to select from a staggering 30 different size options.  Along with this there are options to set the level of error correction for QuickMark (four levels) and QRcode (four levels) and the character set (six options).

After looking at this I really wanted to add a vCard to the back of my business card on a sticky label.  Unfortunately the more information, the larger the QR code needs to be and the ability to focus mobile phone cameras for what is effectively macro photography is frustrating when you look at the amazing reolution now available on modern phones.  The short if it is the technology isn’t quite there yet for this, but some of the QuickMark formats for infomation might spark off some good ideas such as using the geo co-ordinates for treasure hunts or contact details on office doors.

So how inventive can you be with all these encoding options at your disposal?

Author: Stephen Millard

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