Technology Untangled: QR codes provide quick info for smartphones

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technology-bourI have been seeing these odd-looking UPC barcode-like patterns in various print media for some time now. These small squares, about one inch in size, usually appear in the corner of a print advertisement or a poster. Sometimes they include instructions about what they are for, but often they do not. These codes are designed to be used with your smartphone, and they open up a new high-tech avenue for marketing of all types.

I have used my smartphone for about a year now, and I am intrigued and impressed on a regular basis by the many ways it can provide practical applications far beyond those of the simple cell phone. Because of its versatility, Popular Mechanics magazine recently ranked the smartphone at number one in its compilation of the best 100 gadgets of all time. In the case of the codes that are the subject of this article, the smartphone becomes a tool for efficiently dispersing information or for marketing goods and services directly to the clients most interested in your offering.

These scan codes are known as QR codes (abbreviated from Quick Response code). While relatively new to smartphones, this type of two-dimensional matrix barcode has actually been in existence since 1994. Its primary purpose was for tracking component parts in manufacturing plants. The recent proliferation of smartphones has opened a growing market for other uses for these codes. The two technologies that bring it together are the smartphone’s camera and its Internet connectivity.

How do you use them? You simply take a picture of the code with your phone, and you are immediately directed to the information source associated with the code. Essentially, it provides a Web browser quick link. The only other thing you need besides your phone is a free code scanning application. These are easily downloadable just like any other smartphone application. The two I use are the QuickMark Code Scanner and the Microsoft TagReader app (, or from your phone).

The more colorful Microsoft Tag is the code that recently caught my eye. This type is known as a High Capacity Color Barcode (HCCB). I noticed it on the front page of each section of a USA Today newspaper. The first example scan I tested from the sports section took me directly to a Web page containing all the best sports photos of the day. The next one from the money section took me to detailed financial market information. Of course, surfing the Internet from a phone is commonplace today, but here is why the tags make sense; had I opened the smartphone’s Web browser on my own, I would have had to type in a link containing over 65 characters to see those same photos. Tedious at best and dangerous at worst, given today’s increased scrutiny about texting or manipulating your phone while driving.

While the sports page may be a trivial application, there are many opportunities for practical commercial use. Tags such as these can be added, for example, to real estate signs or billboards, theoretically allowing clients to quickly snap a picture of the code while on the road (although, I don’t suppose it would be all that much safer if you were doing that while actually driving). An attorney could add a code to his business card or print ad, providing a quick link to the law firm Web page, a promotional or instructional video, or to case-specific details for different areas of law. Tags can also be designed to dial a phone number when scanned, display a simple informational text message, or download business contact information directly to a phone. These last few examples do not even require Internet connectivity.

There is one important caveat to using a code scanning application on your phone. The default settings allow marketers to collect location-specific information about you whenever you are snapping a code. Sure, that’s useful for sellers, but to me, it’s still a bit creepy. The General Terms of Use also includes language about access to and use of your data and messaging information. The fact is most smartphone applications probably include language such as this, so just be aware.

Creating your own colorful Microsoft Tag takes some study, but the instructions are clear. You can even create decorative custom tags that include your company logo or other artwork. You also get the ability to track results and see how many people scan your tag (and from what location) to help refine your advertising and message. See for more details. The basic features of the Microsoft Tag creating service are free. For simple and free black-and-white tags, try Kaywa QR-Code Generator (

Next time you notice a QR code, go ahead and download a reader app and give it a scan. You may soon find yourself getting good ideas about creating and using codes of your own.•

Stephen Bour ( is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD, and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.


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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues