Update: do read Where have all the QR codes gone?

Finally, a newspaper that’s trying out QR codes in India: Mid Day has introduced QR codes in the publication to enable readers to use their mobile phones to access rich media content. QR codes, which are two dimensional codes that can be printed on just about any surface – windows, hoardings, newspapers, magazines, or even accessible on the web, are deciphered by QR code reading software. You just have to take a photo with your mobile phone camera, and the software will display text or links on your mobile. The text is usually for messages to be sent to a short code, or links for downloading rich media content or promotions via the mobile web. (news via Exchange4Media)

Mid Day is using QR codes for providing access to multimedia content: in this case, asking users to view a video (hence GPRS will be required) and answer a quiz. However, QR codes don’t necessarily have to be used with GPRS enabled handsets – in Japan, where QR codes are the norm, even business cards have QR codes, for quickly adding contact details into the mobile phonebook.

Challenges

While QR code readers are pre-loaded on handsets in Japan, very few people in India are aware of it: hardly anyone has the software installed. It will be a challenge for Mid-Day, because users will first have to install the software: they suggest using i-nigma for QR code reading, but several other free software are available online. You can also try the Kaywa reader, or also generate your own QR code here. And in case you need to get in touch with me, my contact details are in the QR code on the right. For QR codes to become ubiquitous in India, other publications and services will have to follow suit, and handset manufacturers will have to push or preload the readers.

Image Recognition?

As an alternative to QR codes, an Indian technology comes to mind: the now defunct Fotolink had launched an image recognition based service four years ago: users could photograph images or advertisements in newspapers, on hoardings or t-shirts, then MMS the image to a short code or bluetooth it to a server. They would be pushed coupons and promotional content like ringtones, wallpapers etc. Perhaps the service was launched 4-5 years too soon. One of the problems I noticed with the service was its reliance on MMS, which isn’t used much in India. As mentioned earlier, QR codes themselves face the challenge of readers not being pre-installed on handsets.

Apart from using QR codes, publications are likely to push the consumption of rich media content through mobile: Indiatimes appears to be exploring that route with their 58888 follow service. Our take on the service here.