History Of QR Codes

Learn about the history of QR codes and their relationship to UPC barcodes, as well as the rise in the use of QR codes in the United States.

From Barcodes to QR Codes

QR codes or quick response codes are basically descendents of the barcodes we see on the packaging of every product we buy. A typical barcode on a can of coke can hold about 20 digits of information. That's enough to supply the computer with a number to look up the price of the product in it's database. For more information on barcodes check out how UPC barcodes work.

Eventually, the desire to incorporate more data into barcodes led to the development of QR codes by Denso Wave, a subsidiary of the Toyota company. The QR Code symbology was released in 1994. “QR Code” is a registered trademark of DENSO WAVE Incorporated, but it is not necessary to get a license to use the images, because the company has decided not to exercise patent rights, meaning QR Code use is free.

Hold More Information

Regular barcodes can only contain data in one direction- horizontally. QR codes contain information both horizontally and vertically. This leads to them sometimes being called”matrix codes,” or “2D codes.” Compared to the 20 digits of information a run of the mill barcode can store, a QR code can store up to 7,089 digits. QR codes aren't the only other type of 2D code, however, QR codes can hold up to 20% more information than the other types of 2D symbology. More technical information on QR codes and other types of 2D codes are explained in an infographic on Denso Wave's site.

Use of QR Code

QR codes earned their names due to the high speed scan capabilities they possess. Originally, they were used by Toyota to keep track of car parts during the manufacturing process because they were easily scanned. Here's a short video showing some of the manufacturing process for the Toyota Prius. You can really see why, with so many parts barcodes are a necessity for the company.

QR Codes have been popular in Japan for a number of years. They are often used in advertisements, and are recognized by more than 90% of mobile users there. Nearly every cell phone in Japan has preloaded scanning software. Check out this video of some people scanning Disney Japan's advertisement.

Rising use in the US

QR Codes are less well known in the U.S. but with the number of people who own smart phones that are capable of scanning the codes rising, the number of QR Code symbols you see will rise too. Major brands like Time Warner and Macy's jumped on the bandwagon and began using them in ads about two years ago. Plenty of other brands like Coca Cola, Ford, Gap, and Home Depot have followed. So far they mainly can be found in big cities in the US such as New York, Houston, Chicago San Antonio and Las Vegas.