QR Code Reader for iPhone – Barcodes / ZXing

November 14, 2008 — by Simon Ng34



QR Code Reader for iPhone – Barcodes / ZXing

November 14, 2008 — by Simon Ng34

A friend of mine asked me, what application do you recommend when traveling to Japan? Earlier, I wrote about Kotoba!, which is a great application that provides translation between Japanese and English/Chinese. As I spent a week’s vacation in Japan, I found another must-have application on iPhone is a QR code reader. Probably, you’re not familiar with QR code. But it’s ubiquitous in Japan. You can easily find one on street, rail, newspaper, magazine, advertisement, etc.

So, what is QR Code?

So, what’s QR code? Look at the square image on the right. That’s QR code. QR (short for Quick Response) code is a kind of 2-dimensional barcode developed by Denso. Originally designed for tracking parts in manufacturing, QR code has gained popularity in consumer space these years as a way to encode URL. Unlike the basic barcode which you are familiar with, QR code contains information in both horizontal and vertical direction. And this contributes to its capability of storing larger amount of information in both numeric and letter form. Here, I don’t want to dig deep into the technical details about QR code. If you’re interested, you can check out the official website of QR code for further details.

QR Code is Everywhere in Japan

Sushi and Ramen (i.e. Japanese noodle) can be found everywhere in Japan. From my recent visit to Japan, the same for QR code. Well-known for its wireless infrastructure and high usage of 3G mobile internet, telecoms in Japan have successfully brought QR code reader to nearly all mobile phones. QR code started to take off in marketing/consumer space to bridge the gap of online world and old world since 2000. Today, it’s so prevalent in Japan that you can find QR code in magazines, newspaper, maps, bus stop, posters, billboards, advertisements and even graves.

Take a snapshot… No more typing for lengthy URL

So, how Japanese makes use of QR code?

You may have seen newspaper advertisement with a promotional website URL on it. Sometimes, the advertisement does attract you. You then fire up your iPhone’s Safari and type in the somewhat lengthy URL.

However, Japanese doesn’t need to do that. Internet URLs are presented in the form of QR code and placed in the print ads for easy access. No more URL typing. Just point the camera of mobile phone and take a shot on QR code. The built-in QR reader will decode the image and it’ll automatically bring you to the promotional website. Pretty cool, right?

Advertisement is just one of the many applications for QR code in Japan. Imagine you’re waiting at the bus stop and want to know when the next bus will arrive. You can take a snapshot of the QR code which usaually appears on the lower-left corner of bus stop sign. This will then take you to the website of bus schedule.

Not just URL… But SMS, Phone number, etc

QR code is not limited to encode URL. Technically, you can encode any form of international letters. On top of URL, QR code also lets you store other types of information:

  • SMS message
  • phone number
  • any kind of text
  • an email address
  • map location

Increasingly today in Japan, you can find people attaching QR code in business card.

Reading QR Code on iPhone

Back to iPhone, it doesn’t come with a built-in QR code reader. But thanks to Apple’s iPhone App Store. You can already find quite a number of QR code applications. I’d like to share one of them with you first: Barcodes.

Barcodes allows you to scan barcodes (via iPhone camera) and automatically decodes them. Currently, Barcodes only support QR codes and is part of the ZXing project, which is a project initiated by Google. From what I have experienced, nearly all QR code applications on iPhone share similiar user interface. When Barcodes is launched, it’ll put you in camera mode. You can then take a snapshot on the square image of QR code and Barcodes will decode it for you.

Barcodes provides special handling for specific information. Say, the QR code is decoded as an URL. Barcodes will prompt you to open the URL in Safari. And, for email address, Barcodes will ask you if you’d like to compose a new email for that address. How about phone number? Yes, Barcodes would let you dial the phone number directly.

For all the QR codes that you have scanned, Barcodes helps you keep a scan archive for the decoded information. Barcodes also allows you to pick any photos with QR code in your camera roll for decoding. What’s next? Download Barcodes via this iTunes download link and try out QR code below!

Take a snapshot and test out your iPhone QR reader!

Left image: Install QR Code Reader on your iPhone. A must-have application when travel to Japan!
Right image:

You may want to try out more QR code. Why not create your own? Kaywa offers a free QR code generator and you’re freely to create your own QR code.

Stay tuned. I’ll pick two other QR code readers in my upcoming post.

Do you use QR code in your country? Please leave me comment and share with all readers. In Hong Kong, the usage is very limited and we can only find QR code in a few magazines.

Simon Ng

Founder, developer and chief blogger of