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QR Codes: What are they?

  • 28 May 2021
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QR Codes: What are they?
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QR Codes: What are they?

QR codes are everywhere, to the point where you probably see one daily and not think twice about it. They’ve gone from being a novelty feature to an essential part of our digital world. They can help you bag bargains, get onto websites, and even get onto flights. So what exactly are QR codes?


QR codes are very similar to the bar codes you see on the back of the products you buy in shops, the parcels you receive in the post and the books you read. Only QR codes can do much more. Where one-dimensional bar codes can store up to 30 numbers, two-dimensional QR codes can store over 7000, and can be scanned either vertically or horizontally.

You’ll see them used in lots of places. If you buy a train or flight ticket online to download and use on your phone, the part that gets scanned is actually a QR code. It’s unique to your specific ticket, and prevents it from being duplicated. You may see them in restaurants, too.

That’s not all, though. You can use a QR code to link people to music, photos, and apps too. You can even turn a QR code into a link to any webpage. That makes it a clever little feature to add to advertisements, business cards, even your CV. Why not have a go creating your own QR code?


Why it matters

While QR codes make accessing websites and getting through train barriers faster, they haven’t really been that big a deal until recently. That’s because the NHS Track & Trace app relies on QR codes to record vital data about Covid-19 and its transmission.

When you enter a restaurant, café, pub or bar, and you’re asked to check in using the NHS app, you scan a QR code to record your arrival. Many venues require at least one person in your party to have the app and be able to scan the code. With this contact tracing info, the app tells you if you’ve been in close contact with someone that’s tested positive for COVID-19. Find out more about the NHS Track & Trace app.

Once you scan it, you might find that the restaurant has removed paper menus altogether and replaced them with a QR code that takes you to the menu on their website. We’ve seen this in many bars and restaurants both in the UK and abroad, and we think it’s an ingenious way to cut down on paper usage! In some places, they’re even a central part of the ordering system.


How to use them:

It’s easy to scan a QR code.

Depending on the type of QR code you are scanning, you may not need any additional apps or services to scan the QR code. Before downloading any apps or services, open your phone’s camera, point it at the QR code and wait for a couple of seconds. If the QR code is compatible with your device, then a pop-up should appear asking if you would like to open a webpage related to the QR code. Simple!


If the above doesn’t work, then alternatively you can also try the below:

If you have an Android phone, you may find that you’ve got a code scanning tool in your Control Centre (dropdown menu). If not, there are a good few to choose from on the Google Play Store, like Red LaserBarcode Scanner and QR Scanner. Once you’ve downloaded one of these, all you need to do is point your camera at a QR code to activate it. Certain apps will let you create your own QR codes as well as scan others. It’s a great way to get people engaging with the things you create.


If you have an iPhone, you’ve got everything you need from the get-go. The iPhone’s Wallet app has a built-in QR code scanner feature, so you don’t need to download anything. Just open up the Wallet when you see a code you want to scan.


Those are the main things that are worth knowing about QR codes. It’s a brilliant thing when technology is versatile, and there really is no limit to what a QR can do. What’s the smartest way you’ve seen them used? Let us know! 


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