Scan code to see QR in action

Now that smartphones have gone mainstream, mobile technology is moving toward deeper interaction with the physical world. People share their locations on Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook. There are taxi-sharing apps, apps that help you find parking spots, apps that recommend nearby restaurants and attractions.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of brands and media outlets are experimenting with QR, a decade-old technology that seems tailor-made for the mobile era. The QR code is basically an advanced bar code, with the ability to store much more information than a standard bar code. The Quick Response aspect of the code makes it a convenient way to serve up content to people on the go.

Here’s how it works. Download one of the many free QR readers to your camera-equipped smartphone. With the app open, take a photo of the code. This will point your browser to a website containing related information, images or video. It can also send a coupon or an SMS to your phone.

The idea is that scanning a bar code is much faster than typing a Web address on your tiny smartphone keyboard or touch screen – and way cooler. These black and white boxes may not be the most visually arresting technology, but it’s what they can do, where they can be placed and how they’re being used that makes QR codes fascinating.

Bringing magazines to life

For magazines, QR can act as a bridge between the print and digital experiences. Take this very standard Tissot “flat” ad, featuring a model wearing a watch. By placing a QR code on the ad, the brand sends the reader to a mobile landing page dedicated to the watch, featuring more photos of the model, a making-of video and more.

Tissot took the campaign one step further by putting the code on some flesh-and-blood models at the Indianapolis Grand Prix:

QR can be a great way to grab the attention of people on the go. This summer Calvin Klein created a billboard in New York City consisting of a giant QR code with the tagline, “Get it Uncensored.” Curious passersby could snap a photo of the billboard and watch the campaign video on their mobile device.

Granted, most people wouldn’t know what the QR code is, but others might take the time to watch the video and, being tech savvy, talk about it and share it with friends:

Beyond the “wow” factor, QR codes can be incredibly useful. Lynx, a bus service in Florida, is using QR codes at bus stops; finding out when the next bus is arriving is as simple as taking a picture.

An artisanal cheese shop in Washington state is placing QR codes above its products that link to short videos explaining how each cheese is made.

In another example of the real and virtual worlds colliding, Google recently mailed window decals with unique QR codes to 100,000 businesses in the U.S., which the search company identified as “Favorite Places on Google.”  Anyone walking by could scan the codes with their phones to read online reviews or tag the business as a favourite.

Augmented Reality

In some cases, QR is being combined with that other much-hyped mobile innovation, Augmented Reality. Esquire’s December issue was filled with QR codes that allowed the reader to interact with the magazine in fun and surprising ways.

Hold the cover in front of your webcam and Robert Downey Jr. appears in 3D on your screen. Scan the fashion story and watch the model on the screen change outfits as you rotate the magazine:

Adidas’s augmented reality sneakers feature a QR code that when pointed at a screen, transforms the shoe into a laser gun for a video game:

BMW was one of the first big companies to toy with the technology, placing a 3D ad for the Mini on the back of a magazine. As the viewer rotated the magazine the car rotated on the screen, allowing potential customers to view the model from all angles:

QR, like all technology, is ultimately about making our lives richer and more efficient. With a quick scan, these simple bar codes allow us to move seamlessly from the physical to the digital world, entertaining and informing us along the way.

The simplicity of the code allows for printing on just about anything imaginable: mugs, t-shirts, wallpaper, business cards, and even tattoos. They can direct people to online resumes, Twitter accounts, or anywhere else on the Web.

Expect QR to play a huge role in the future of print media, television, and even travel planning and inflight entertainment. With the inevitable rise of inflight connectivity and 4G mobile technology, QR is poised to become even more relevant.

Tell us: Have you come across any innovative uses of QR? Where do you see the technology headed?

More QR reading:

The N Building in Japan: A giant QR code

Why hasn’t QR taken off in the West?

Delta Air Lines uses QR on its boarding passes

Make your own QR code

The QR Flickr group