2D mobile barcodes yet to take off in Canada

Two-dimensional (2D) barcodes are commonplace in Japan, but the technology hasn’t taken off in Canada.

Roughly 90 per cent of phones in Japan have 2D barcode readers and 75 per cent of those are used regularly, said Marc Meloche, president of Montreal-based MMMobile, the Canadian distributor for 3GVision Inc.’s i-nigma mobile 2D barcode solution.

Meloche expects the same widespread adoption to take place in Canada by 2013. “Could it fail? Could it not catch on as it did elsewhere? It’s almost impossible because all the players involved, in whatever role, have something to gain from it,” he said. 

There are several 2D barcode formats out there, but the most commonly used are Quick Response (QR) and Data Matrix, said Meloche. Data Matrix is a better format than QR, but QR has the “recognizability factor,” he said.

QR, the first 2D barcode, was invented in the 1990’s by Tokyo-based Denso Wave Inc. for the automotive industry. But it wasn’t until NTT DoCoMo Inc. and 3GVision co-created the ability to insert hyperlinks into the code in 2002 that the technology really opened up for consumer use, he said.

The benefit of using either QR or Data Matrix code is that they are open source, so virtually all of the 2D barcode readers out there can read them, said Meloche. The proprietary codes, such as BeeTagg from Connvision Ltd., can only be read by their own readers, which limits their use, he said. 

ScanLife, a 2D format from New York City-based Scanbuy Inc., is a popular proprietary code in Canada, said Meloche. “Canada Post is using it, but if you don’t have the ScanLife reader, you can’t read it,” he said.

Two-dimensional barcodes can interact with smartphones in multiple ways, such as directing users to a Web page, to dial a phone number, send a text message or e-mail, open a map or add contact information to an address book, he said.

And the potential applications are endless, said Meloche. Examples include food packing that sends users to online recipes, billboards that redirect to movie listings and newspapers that link to online horoscopes.

Two-dimensional barcodes can also be printed on non-traditional surfaces, such as clothing or even food.

Creating a 2D barcode is a simple process and there are several online services that allow users to create 2D barcodes for free. 3GVision’s site, for example, offers to create 2D barcodes free of charge for non-commercial, personal use.

It takes a couple minutes to create a 2D barcode on 3GVision’s site – enter a title for the code, select either QR or Data Matrix format, choose a file size and decide whether the barcode will link to a Web site, encode a message, provide contact details or send a text.

When creating a code, it’s important to keep in mind that the longer the URL, the more detailed the image will become, Meloche pointed out. He suggested using a URL shortener to simplify the Web address before embedding it into the code.

3GVision saves the 2D barcodes as an image file in .eps, .jpg, .gif or .png format. Meloche recommends Vector-based EPS files, as this format allows users to blow up their image to large sizes without losing resolution.

For businesses, 3GVision’s i-nigma mobile barcode solution provides the 2D barcode creator and reader, as well as the ability to track and measure results. MMMobile also offers branded QR codes, which allow companies to match codes to their creative by integrating pictures or logos or customized colours.

MMMobile provides detailed reports that include the total number of scans and the number of unique users scanned, said Meloche. Codes can also be created with slight variables that allow a business to measure the effectiveness of different campaigns, he said.

3GVision’s reader features auto-detection, which means users only need to place their phone in front of a 2D barcode for the scanning to take place, as opposed to other readers that may require manually snapping a photo of the barcode first, he said.

Free for personal use, the i-nigma reader can be downloaded to mobile phones by visiting 3GVision’s mobile site. “We are currently compatible with over 480 different mobile phones,” he said. 


Jayanth Angl, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., said the move towards 2D barcodes is a natural progression from using URLs or SMS short codes in marketing materials.

“It makes a lot of sense in that you don’t require as much of the consumer. You don’t require them to manually enter a URL or an SMS short code and go through those steps. They can just point and scan,” he said.

Companies like Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. have been very active in trying to promote QR codes, said Angl. “If you look at the opportunities here and particularly in marketing campaigns, I don’t think it would take long for this to become commonplace as people start to understand it,” he said.

Angl said competing formats, such as Microsoft Tag, may complicate the matter.

Google’s URL shortener, goo.gl, offers the ability to create QR codes as part of its service. The goo.gl service is “currently available for Google products and not for broader consumer use,” states Google’s site.

The biggest example of 2D barcode use outside of marketing is in the airline industry, said Angl, which uses the codes to allow people to access their boarding passes on their mobile devices. 

Follow me on Twitter @jenniferkavur. 

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