Whether 1D or 2D, Barcode Scanning – A Revolution Not To Be Ignored

November 5, 2012 Pivotal Labs

Although barcode scanning has formerly only been used in industrial uses, the rise of smartphones changed that completely. Anyone who owns a smartphone now also has a “barcode in their back pocket”, a powerful tool for consumer advertising and mobile strategy. In fact, even though the technology is still very new in Canada and the US, mobile barcode scanning has increased over 1600% during 2010.

One of the most important goals in a successful mobile strategy is a high user conversion rate, meaning the user completed an intended call-to-action. Some factors that affect conversion rate are:

  1. What the user wants
  2. Where the user wants
  3. What the user need to act
  4. When the user is most likely to act

It is the fourth factor that mobile smartphones and barcode scanning prove their greatest merits. Since the window of opportunity for a user to act is quite narrow, information has to be delivered quickly and in a seamless fashion. With a QR code, a user can be instantly be redirected to a website, perform an automatic action, or receive information; all without a 3rd party server.

Barcodes and Mobile

At a high level, there are two types of barcodes that a mobile device can use for scanning, 1D and 2D. Both serve the same purpose: represent data to be interpreted by the scanning device. 1D barcodes represent the data by varying widths and spacing of parallel lines (hence giving the name barcode). 2D barcodes systems use a variety of symbols, usually rectangles, dots and hexagons.

The differences though are far larger than merely aesthetic, and it was the widespread use of 2D barcodes that make mobile scanning important for smartphones. Firstly, 2D barcodes can store a variety of data. A 1D barcode stores up to 30 numbers, while a 2D barcode can store up to 7,089 numbers. This additional storage capacity accommodates allows a smartphone application to receive text, a hyperlink, telephone number, SMS/MMS message, email, or many other possibilities. Even a hyperlink itself presents a myriad of possibilities beyond just redirecting the user to a mobile site: your application can play a video, check-in on Foursquare, update a Twitter status, “Like” a Facebook page, display map directions, and many more. The second advantage of 2D barcodes lies within the phone hardware itself. 1D barcodes are more challenging to scan with lesser quality cameras without an auto-focus camera feature. For these reason, when choosing a mobile strategy, we recommend adopting 2D barcodes, preferably the QR system. In fact, during Q1 of 2011, 2D barcode scanning outnumbered 1D scans.

Since QR codes can be used for nearly any function, including logistics, advertising, customer service, etc., their use is showing up across a variety of industries in imaginative ways. Actually, 22 percent of the Fortune 50 companies used mobile barcodes within their mobile strategy. One of the first widespread uses for barcodes on mobile phones was done by BlackBerry with the BBM messaging service, allowing users to add contacts by scanning a QR code displayed on a friend’s device. Some other imaginative uses by industry leaders are:

  • Best Buy – in-store QR tags on merchandise can be scanned to access online reviews
  • Golf Digest – 2D barcodes found in the magazine can be scanned to gain access to interactive videos with tips
  • Real Estate – potential buyer’s can scan “for sale” signs to access interactive tours of the property

Integrate your App

With all the potential for mobile scanning, it is relieving that integrating with your current mobile application is not a daunting task. A quick search will reveal a large list of available barcode scanning libraries; available for iOS, Android, Windows and BlackBerry. When choosing a barcode library, accuracy and speed are two of the most important factors to take into account. At Xtreme Labs, the two libraries we use most often are Red Laser and Zbar:

  1. Red Laser – This is a paid barcode-scanning app with an SDK available for iOS and Android developers. Top companies across the world use Red Laser to provide fast, accurate and reliable scanning using their available SDK. Nice features of Red Laser are it’s wide device support (doesn’t require autofocus) and support for both 1D and 2D code systems (13+ code types in total). Red Laser’s main drawback is that it is expensive; they acquire 10% of sales if used within a paid application along with a minimum license fee of $2500
  2. ZBar – This is an open source software suite and among the best among the freely available options. Although integration requires more effort than Red Laser’s SDK, it supports reading bar codes from various sources including video streams, images and raw intensity sensors.

Other options do exist, including ShopSavvy, pic2shop, Zxing, and QuickMark to name a few.

Whichever library you choose to go with, the end result is the same: mobile barcodes are a revolution and not a fad. With all the benefits and tools available, including best practice guides and mobile libraries, the merits and opportunities of mobile barcode scanning are an important factor to look into when developing your mobile strategy to enhance user experience and increase conversion.

About the Author


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