Although 2D barcodes (also called QR codes – short for Quick Response) aren’t new, but they still haven’t caught on in the US. I’ve been asked by a lot of people "What is that?" when they see a QR code. To answer those people, they are postage stamp size or larger mathematical image that smartphones (with a high enough resolution camera) can read and convert to characters. Those characters can be a web address or a block of text or just about any input that a smartphone can handle.
As with any new technology, it comes to down to a good product that a majority of the people like (even if that product isn’t the best out there.) With technology, part of the issue can be competing technologies. Beta vs. VHS, Laser disc vs. DVD and HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray were great examples of how both products were available at the same time, and consumers bought and used both technologies until some agreement was made by content providers to stick with one. We’re now at that juncture with 2D barcodes. In Japan QR codes seem to be the chosen format.
Microsoft developed their own format and reader – "Tag". Although they have an interesting idea to use colored triangles, the tag is a bit intrusive because it’s so colorful. Sadly, only the MS Reader can read the Microsoft Tags; and to add one more death-nail to their project, their reader can’t read any other barcode formats.
AT&T created their own reader – "AT&T Code Scanner". Considering that AT&T has had the monopoly on the iPhone for its first several years on the market, they have the ability to get their reader on millions of devices. Their scanner does read quickly, but the biggest drawback of AT&T’s reader is the UI (user interface) – it won’t show the content of a code on the screen without clicking "Yes, Display webpage" in order to do a database lookup just to display text.
By far, ZXing has the best barcode scanner for Android and Java (iPhone). The ZXing reader can read DataMatrix codes and QR codes AND immediately displays the decoded text without having to do a lookup.
I’m most surprised by companies who use DataMatrix codes in their advertising. I saw this print ad from Intel recently that actually requires users to use AT&T’s scanner and lookup database… I don’t know how much "smarter" they are…