What you see above is a QR-Code (Quick Response), ubiquitous anywhere in Japan, and on merchandise produced in Japan. Although the technology’s use license is ambiguous (to me), and there’s a chance some corporation ‘owns’ it in some nefarious way or another, so far in practice QR-Codes have been easy, open, and free barcodes for public use.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a mobile phone in Japan that doesn’t read QR-Codes, and they can contain anything from plain text, email addresses, phone numbers, or links to online content. They’ve been deployed for years and allow consumers to access extra content, interact with companies, and exchange information quickly. Anyone can make a QR-Code, and I’m told you can find them on a great deal of business cards. One quick scan, and contact details make their way into your phone, hassle-free.
Locally, StarHub licensed NTT’s cellphone web platform, i-mode. The success of that endeavor aside, I’ve always believed QR-Codes should make their way here as well. Why then, is Singapore being plastered with THESE?!
ColorCodes are a competing technology that depend on color reproduction to work. I won’t go into detail because you can read ColorZip’s website for yourself, but this implementation is chiefly used to deliver simple URLs to online content. Developed in Korea, maintained by a company called ColorZip SEA, and endorsed here by Singapore Press Holdings, this technology is a shadow of what QR-Code is. Is it a competing standard for the sake of having one of our own? Is it an effort to push more expensive color pages (in SPH’s newspapers) to advertisers? Who knows.
The one advantage ColorCodes have, are that they can be read by almost any crap digital camera. Unless you’re in an environment with strong colored light. QR-Codes generally need to be printed larger than an inch, unless you have a cameraphone that takes close-up shots. In Japan, that’s almost every phone. The argument for ColorCodes falls apart when you realize that these low-tech cameraphones need web-browsers and internet connections in order to see the content that the ColorCodes reference.
The system is closed and proprietary, and I’ve found no way to create one of my own. Everything goes through ColorZip SEA, and I think that’s just the way they like it. They’ve started a MySpace wannabe called ColorZipMe.com, where you can make an ugly profile page for yourself, that comes with a ColorCode link to itself. Wanna make a ColorCode for the blog you’ve already got? Doesn’t look like you can.
So why, just why, are ColorCodes being pushed as our nation’s standard for cameraphone barcodes? The rationale for even having such a technology is because advanced mobile-data-plan-consuming nations like Japan have them. Because they push the population to become more tech-savvy, and marketing to be more effective. That’s why we have free island-wide WiFi.
So why are we choosing a product built for compatibility with 20th century cameraphones? Shouldn’t we just bite the bullet, adopt the superior technology, and wait for our middle-aged to renew their carrier contracts, and get better phones? This must be the first “groundbreaking” technology I’ve seen to target the lowest-common denominator as its early adopter. For shame!
In the unlikely event that you are as upset about this as I am, and I know there’s got to be at least one of you, here’s what you can do in juvenile rebellion:
Download a QR-Code reader for your non-Japanese phone. I’ve been using Kaywa Reader. It’s a Java app, and you can download it by visiting reader.kaywa.com with your mobile phone.
Start making QR-Codes and put them on your business cards, blogs, flyers, posters, etc. You can make them here, or download a Windows app from the NTT DoCoMo site. A list of other apps resides here.
The blogger, Robert Peloschek, uses QR-Codes as supplementary permalinks for each post. He also has some interesting stories about the technology, including a new application for it, in motion images. They call it “Movie QR”. Here’s a promotional ad for it that’s quite funny.