Ever seen an advert with a strange-looking bar code telling you to scan? Or have you got your eye on a pair of wireless headphones that claim to link instantly to your phone with a quick tap? What you’re looking at are QR (Quick Response’) codes and NFC (Near-Field Communication). Here, we’ll explain what they are and just how they can help you get more out of your phone.
What is a QR code?
QR codes are pretty similar to the one-dimensional bar codes you see on the back of product packaging or books. However, where 1D bar codes are only able to store up to 30 numbers, two-dimensional QR codes can store over 7000 and be scanned both horizontally and vertically. That means not only are they more practical, but they can also store more information.
You’ve probably seen QR codes and haven’t noticed. When you book a flight and download your boarding pass to your smartphone, the QR code on your ticket is the bit that you scan to get you into the departure lounge and through your gate. If you’re reading a magazine and stumble upon an ad, or waiting for a bus and see a billboard, you’ll often see a QR code you’re encouraged to scan. It could take you to the brand’s social media pages, or lead you to a promotional offer.
Scanning a QR code is easy. If you have an Android phone, all you have to do is download an app like Red Laser, Barcode Scanner or QR Scanner and use your camera to focus on the QR code. All three apps are free to download and add amazing functionality to your handset. Some even let you create your own QR codes, which is great if you’re building a brand and want to gain some extra exposure, or if you’re in a band and trying to get more followers on your Facebook page. Rather than just providing a link, it’s a great way to get people engaged.
If you have an iPhone or Apple device, it’s even easier. The Wallet app that comes with your phone also features a built-in QR code scanner, so no downloading required. Just scan and see where it takes you.
Why don’t you have a go? Scan the QR code. You can also create your own QR code
What is NFC?
NFC is very different to QR codes. It’s a wireless data transfer system that lets two nearby devices communicate without the internet. It’s quick, easy to use and has a whole host of applications. Not all smartphones have NFC, but if yours does, you’ve probably used it already.
If you use your phone or smartwatch to pay when you’re out shopping, NFC connects your device to the card machine at the till. It’s the same tech that’s used in contactless debit and credit cards. Try it out during our Black Friday Event! It’s a great way to make payments fast, especially when you’ve found a great deal that you’re worried might sell out quickly, or when you’re on the move and it’s impractical to enter card details.
You might have seen a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones that highlight NFC as a key feature. That’s because unlike most Bluetooth headphones, you don’t have to go through the pain of manual connection whenever you want to listen to music. Instead, all you have to do is make sure NFC is enabled on your device, and place the headphones against your phone to pair. It takes a matter of seconds and is much easier than scrolling through Bluetooth devices to find the right one.
It’s not just about headphones and payments. You can use NFC to send directions to a friend via Google Maps, direct them to an app on the Google Play store or even send a document, picture or phone number.
You can even buy NFC tags that let you get really creative with the technology. Many apps let you program commands to work with tags. Why not place one in the car and program your phone to connect to the Bluetooth sound system whenever you tap? Or, you could program your phone alarm to only turn off when you tap the phone against an NFC tag on your bedside table.
Those are only a couple of ways you can use QR codes and NFC with your smartphone. What’s the most ingenious way you’ve seen them used? Let us know in the comments below.