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Image showing a Barcode blending into a QR Code and then into an AI generated QR Code

In our increasingly digital-driven world, we are surrounded by symbols and codes that facilitate swift access to data and communication. The two most commonly used are barcodes and QR codes. And if you’re wondering what QR stands for, it’s Quick Response.

Both play vital roles in various industries for authentication, identification, and tracking.
At first glance, these data-rich symbols may seem similar; however, they differ significantly in structure, storage capabilities and applications. So, let's first delve into the differences between barcodes and QR Codes.


Understanding the Difference between a barcode and QR Code 


Lines and Squares…

Barcode differences  - traditional barcodes are 1 Dimensional and consist of parallel lines of various thicknesses and spacing deciphered using a light source, lens and light sensor. Initially invented in 1952, the barcode is a universally recognised symbol predominantly used for product identification and inventory management in retail environments. Barcodes can only hold information horizontally.
Whereas QR Codes are 2-Dimensional matrix codes, traditionally composed of black squares on a white grid, today's options allow for the inclusion of circles, colours, logos and more. A QR Code can store data both horizontally and vertically. This bi-directional data storage allows for more complex and versatile uses than traditional barcodes. The QR code was invented in 1994 by Denso Wave and was initially used for tracking auto components.

Data Capacity
One of the main differences between barcodes and QR codes is the amount and type of data that can be stored. For example, a standard 1D barcode can store 85 characters of Data comprising of SKU numbers or similar identifiers. So, how much information can be stored in a QR code? Well a QR code can hold several thousand characters, enabling the encoding of URLs, text, images, and other data types.

Data Types and Functionality
Barcodes are primarily used to encode product information such as price, product number etc., in retail environments, store text and numeric data types. On the other hand, QR Codes are far more versatile because they can encode various data types, including multimedia. QR Codes are used in many marketing activities as you can link directly to websites, videos, files, or any online content. QR Codes are also widely used for digital payments.

Error Correction - Even a minor impairment or damage to a barcode can render them unreadable, unlike QR codes with error correction capability, allowing them to function even when partially damaged or obscured.

Scan-ability - Barcodes typically require a reader or scanner and specific alignment for scanning, usually a direct line of sight to the barcode. However, QR codes can be scanned using any modern smartphone with a camera making them a convenient option. Around 2011, some marketers predicted that QR Codes would die out once the novelty wore off; this was because previously, most smartphones required a third-party app to read a QR Code. However, today it's simply a question of point and click on any newer smartphone.

According to Statista.com, usage of mobile QR code scanners is projected to experience constant growth, reaching over 100 million users in the U.S. by 2025. And in a survey of shoppers conducted in June 2021, 45 per cent of respondents had used a QR code on their mobile devices. Statista also reported that China had almost 10 billion mobile devices that used QR codes for payments in 2022, significantly higher than any other country worldwide.

QR Code Uses 

QR Codes remain a creative and effective way to market to an audience. Here are just some of the business use cases:

  • Use a QR Code in direct mail, a business card or a postcard to provide a discount.
  • Share a Digital Menu
  • Direct users to download your app
  • Direct users to a page which details a product or event
  • Enrolment in a webinar
  • Link to an exclusive YouTube video
  • Direct users to your website
  • Share your contact information

QR Codes in the Sky – Drone QR Code 
Ariel light displays using drones to create QR codes are making more unexpected appearances worldwide. QR Code drone light shows create exciting brand engagement opportunities as the novelty generally has yet to wear off. In April of this year, Insurance company Beazley lit up London's skyline with a QR Code made up of 400 drones. Beazley's Chief marketing officer revealed that more than 1000 people scanned the code.

qr-code-generator.com reported The Bilibili lighting show in Shanghai as one of the most epic drone QR Codes to have graced the sky! The purpose was to commemorate the Japanese role-playing mobile game Princess Connect Re. Take a look:

 

 

 

Using QR Codes for Payment 

PayPal offers PayPal Business account users the ability to create, print and share a QR code that is unique to your business. PayPal state that when used correctly (and creatively), QR codes offer a fast, touch-free way to accept payments in person. Companies can use the same QR code for all customers, in-store or on-the-go. However, the customer will need a PayPal account to pay the business. For more information visit the PayPal website

Future Market Insights predict the QR code payment market to grow 4.8x by 2033, reporting significant growth of late that is expected to continue.


AI Meets QR Code…

AI is a hot topic, and the internet is flooded with weird and wonderful uses to include AI-generated QR codes. Some of these designs are pretty stunning, and the codes work.

Beautiful Anime inspired AI QRCode by QRBTF

Stunning Japanese Inspred AI QRCode by QRBTF


(Image credit: QRBTF) Scan the images or Check out the gallery at https://qrbtf.com/gallery

Other applications where AI and QR codes can be combined to create robust solutions are as follows:

Personalised Marketing & Customer Engagement - AI can analyse an individual’s behaviour, preferences, and previous interactions with QR codes. This information is then used to create personalised marketing campaigns and dynamically generated content to increase conversion rates and user experience.

Enhanced Security and Authentication - Create a multi-factor authentication process by integrating AI-driven facial recognition with QR code scanning. For example, an organisation could use a QR code as an initial verification step for a system login, followed by AI-facial recognition to confirm identity, creating a robust security protocol.

Smart Inventory and Supply Chain Management - Combining AI with QR codes used to track products in the supply chain provides the opportunity of predicting inventory needs, optimising routes, and real-time analytics.

Health & Medical Applications - QR Codes can provide fast access to patient information and records, combined with AI algorithms that predict and analyse medical conditions, which leads to intelligent insights.

Augmented Reality Experiences - QR codes can be used to launch augmented reality (AR) experiences on your mobile device. These can often be found in museums or exhibits. AI can enhance these experiences by interpreting user interactions and adapting content dynamically.

Accessibility and Inclusion - Integrating QR Codes with AI-driven text-to-speech or text translation services offers inclusivity for people with disabilities. For example, a QR code on a menu could trigger an AI-powered voice to read the menu.

Fraud Detection - By analysing patterns and anomalies in how a QR code is generated or scanned, AI can identify potential threats and take pre-emptive measures.

 

QR Codes and Cyber Crime

So, QR Codes, whilst being a versatile and valuable technology, have been leveraged by cybercriminals for malicious purposes. Barcodes are generally less of a target for cybercriminals. However not wholly immune and could be leveraged for data manipulation and counterfeiting to intercepting and modifying barcodes in transit to redirect shipments.

Here are some of the ways that QR codes are being leveraged in cyber-crime today:

Phishing or Quishing Attacks - Cybercriminals can lure victims into providing personal information by encoding a link to a fake site designed to imitate a legitimate one. Scanning the code directs the victim to the phishing site. Darktrace, a global leader in cybersecurity AI, refer to these attacks using QR codes as Quishing Attacks, reporting a recent and rapid increase in QR code abuse.

Malware Distribution - QR Codes can be used to link to files containing malicious software. The victim's device may automatically download and install ransomware, spyware or other malicious programs when the QR code is scanned.

Misleading Advertising - Somebody can use a fraudulent QR code in an advertisement to redirect the user to a counterfeit website.

Wi-Fi Network Attacks - QR Codes containing Wi-Fi connection information are convenient and relatively common but can be exploited. A malicious QR code could connect to an unsecured or compromised network controlled by a hacker.

Prevention and Safety Measures - To help protect from the potential misuse of QR codes, users should only scan QR codes from trusted sources and avoid scanning QR codes that seem out of place or suspicious, especially if they appear in unexpected locations.

 

Summary

Both barcodes and QR codes serve as tools for encoding information, but they are best suited to different applications due to their unique differences. Understanding and leveraging these differences as we move further into the digital age can provide businesses and consumers with a broad range of benefits.

The combination of QR codes and AI offers many possibilities for enhancing user experience, security, efficiency, and inclusivity. We can expect to see even more innovative applications as these technologies evolve. Leveraging the power of QR codes and AI can solve complex problems and create opportunities in marketing, healthcare, retail, and security. And awareness of potential risks and the adoption of best practices can mitigate threats, ensuring the technology continues to be secure and beneficial.