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What are QR codes?

You may have seen them on signs or billboards: smallish, square boxes with a smattering of dots (usually black-and-white) and larger, thick boxes in three corners. QR codes are one variety of a larger class of bar codes, 2D codes. 2D codes are so called because they encode information in two dimensions, while traditional bar codes only use the width of and spaces between lines in one dimension. Invented by Denso Wave in the mid-nineties and originally used to track auto parts, QR codes have gained popularity by leaps and bounds since the mid-oughts, and now they can be found everywhere from headstones to French cattle to alarm clocks.

There are plenty of skeptics, though, and when it comes to marketing and advertising, those skeptics aren’t always wrong. When consumers scan a QR code, they don’t necessarily know what URL the code is going to take them to. The public has been slow to adopt them, with many people not even aware of what they’re for or how to scan them.

But QR codes were originally conceived of as a business tool, and that’s where they excel. Particularly when it comes to inventorying and asset management tasks, QR codes offer unmatched flexibility and ease of use, and their potential has only begun to be tapped – as 2D codes grow in public acceptance, you can expect to see more QRs around than the classic prison-bars.
Qr Codes
2D codes help solve the space problem with small items that still need a code. Good luck fitting a classic 1D code on the cap of a test tube!

Today, 2D codes’ main competition come from the older 1D barcodes that we’re all familiar with and RFID codes, which use radio to communicate with special scanners. The former take up too much space and are limited in the data they can hold; RFID has prompted security concerns (since passive signals can be hacked) and require extremely complex setup and maintenance. As Goldilocks might have said, for most businesses’ and private users’ purposes, 2D is just right.