QR Code: Rich Media to Meet the Legacy Print?

QR Code: Rich Media to Meet the Legacy Print?

SCAN app in the iTunes

I don’t usually get carried away by gadgets or techno­lo­gical innova­tions. Usually don’t hype about them either. I might talk about them, review them, discuss them. Yes, you can call me gear-head if you want — but just because of that, I’m also very used to technology. I am not easily impressed.

But this time I do. I am. Totally. Read my lips. A bold statement:

This might be one of the coolest things happening to us working within the media, rich media and multi­media context during the next couple of years.

I really mean it.

Bear with me — and just play with me for 5 minutes. You won’t regret it.

Do the following:

  1. Take your iPhone, go to the iTunes app section, and load an app called “SCAN” into your phone (if you do not have an iPhone, but do have a Nokia, Samsung, etc. you might get a corres­ponding app from this link).
  2. Flip the SCAN app on. Do nothing else but to point it at the “checker­board” ‑symbol on the right.
  3. Stop — take a deep breath — what did just happen?

If you are into rich content / multi­media production — and you haven’t seen this before — I just got you attention, right?

If everything worked as it should have, your iPhone was directed to a simple image gallery (JS, HTML5, some of my old images for demo only) which you can scroll by tapping. But question naturally is: how did that happen?

You scanned a visual code — called the QR code — and automa­tically your phone opened the desti­nation site. It opened the site in the app window (if you were using SCAN) but look at the lower right corner: if you want the content to display in browser (and flip between vertical and horizontal), one touch and you open it in Safari. Could not be simpler, right?

Now that you have got the hang of it, try the other three QR codes on the right I made for demo purposes only.

  • Try the first one and you get a video. Not to bore you with my own stuff, I chose a scene from one of my favorite films of all times: Robert Altman’s Nashville with Keith Carradine and Lily Tomlin (embedded from UTube). But it could be anything: Vimeo, your own server, etc.
  • Try the next one and you end up into a 360°x180° panoramic image you can swirl around with your finger. Tap to full screen, pinch to zoom in and out.
  • Try the last one and you end up on google earth pointing to a specific location in Helsinki, Finland.

Pretty cool, huh?

Forget the content for a while now — I just quickly scrambled something up to show this as a demo. But think about what is really happening in here:

By scanning with free software — one touch of a button to switch it on — your mobile device is accessing rich content — content with no limits: images, text, audios­li­deshows, video, audio, maps, sms, email, etc. By scanning a small bw-image — very much like a postal stamp — your mobile device can end up on any content/application you could ever desire to access in the web.

Call me crazy, but if I were a newspaper publisher, I’d go WOW. Several times. Loud.

How Could I Use This?

Suppose you are doing a simple one page story on somebody. Some text and 1–2 images on a printed newspaper page. You embed this “stamp” in the lower right corner of the page. Now, anybody who is interested in e.g. seeing more images on this person can access them by simply pointing their smart phone at the stamp (i.e. the QR code). Now, suppose your prota­gonist is an actor. Your “stamp” might lead to a movie trailer you were discussing in your article. Whatever you can think of , you can link to it. From a physical printed page.

Still not convinced? Let me paint you another scenario:

Say Madonna is having a concert in Helsinki. You run a story in you paper the day of the concert — note, the same day, not the day after (well, if Madonna performs in Helsinki, you hype about it for a week at least… ‚-)

Anyway: the story on your paper can have couple of these “stamps”: one like my last demo — accessing google maps or google earth — which ever you prefer — showing how to get to the venue. Second maybe showing the subway/tram timetables etc. — i.e some essential infor­mation you’d need about the venue. Third stamp might be adver­tising an image­gallery you can view when you leave the venue.… Note: to view now — not tomorrow: in the subway or on the bus, on your way home. The photo­grapher who shoots the tree first songs has the gallery ready and playing well before the show is over and you head homewards. And if you are a publisher: I am 100% sure this same person buys your physical paper also tomorrow to see “the best of the best” ‑images, etc. — now that he/she has gotten a mobile preview.

As it’s been said before: it is not about the news, it’s about the content. It’s about experiencing, reliving the feeling/the experience, over and over again.

Let’s still take it further:

You have done both of the mentioned stories above. Your paper has established a solid reputation that you are routinely using this “hip” technology to show high quality rich content on mobile devices. Then what do you do next?

You teach this to your adver­tizers: when Toyota or whoever buys half a page add in you paper, you ask them to embed this kind of stamp to the end of their add. Readers who are interested in the product simply just scan the image with their phone and are immediately directed to the mobile websites with rich content, videos, etc. — displaying the object of desire — be it in this case the latest Toyota or what ever.

Or simply: you have a news story which is developing rapidly. You insert “keep up with the latest on your mobile” ‑stamp on your page when the paper goes to print. And the next day the reader has access to the relevant fresh news on this.

This totally blows my mind. This is the first time ever I see any techno­lo­gical interface working between the legacy daily print and the mobile devices. First time. So far it has been a lame “Please look at the video on our website” or “More content on our site” printed in the end of the story. This makes the apparently impos­sible a total breeze: rich content multi­media thru the physical print.

Beyond the Newspaper Publishing

Above I pitched ideas for the daily print. But, obviously: there is no limit to the use of this in other contexts. It’s just that multi­media, photo­graphy and the future of the media in general are close to my heart. Let me just digress a little:

I take a walk thru Porvoo, my hometown, in the evening and here are couple of other ideas which just pop to mind, just to throw you some examples:

Opera using QR code on their website; scanning it downloads the software (Click image to see the website)

I go swimming to the local pool on a daily basis. During the holidays they always have unusual opening hours. If they had a QR code just plastered on the front door: on my way in one night I’d get all the time schedules immediately recorded into my phone. Sure, I could check them in the web as well when I get home. Try to find them on the munici­pality infor­mation page… well, trust me, that would take a while (as municipal bureaucracy and dynamic web content do not go that well together, at least not in my town… ;-))

But you get the drift: any infor­mation, any time schedules, etc.

I walk past the local theater: a poster of theater perfor­mance — with a QR stamp so you get all the time schedules and link to to order tickets with your phone. One touch of a button.

I think about the real estate adds I see in the window of a local real estate agent — all the images, graphics and relevant info into your phone by just pointing it to the code…

I think about education, e.g. a teacher giving homework to kids after a class… I think about local restau­rants adver­tizing in our local paper: the link from their stamp might give you the lunch menu of the week right into your phone.…

A friend of mine comes to mind: he is a pretty famous maker of documentary movies and I just think that he might benefit of a “extended business card” — say like a postcard which would in addition to the contact infor­mation and a small synopsis of his present film plus 1–2 images have this code. Anybody truly interested could just scan it and have immediate access to his website and a trailer / screening version of his movie. Colleagues, potential buyers he meets in movie festivals etc. When they are getting home and spending time in trains, airports, etc. they might take a look at his work thru their smart phones?

And yes, finally the obvious one: being a photo­grapher, maybe I should put a miniature stamp on the backside of my business card — in case after our meeting on the way home you might want to view my portfolio on your phone?

You understand why I am hyperventilating? :-)

Is this New — What Does it Cost — How Does it Work?

RedLaser — a free app for iPhone

No, QR code is not new, it’s been around since the nineties. It’s just that practically nobody has made any use of it for presenting multi­media and rich content. At least I am not aware of any such efforts in our daily print.

Money? It costs you nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada. Niente. Rien. Ingenting. Ei mitään.

Using it is very simple. You create the code using free software like the QR Code Generator and define what function and/or which website you would like the mobile device to link to. It can be a website, google earth/maps, facebook, twitter, sms, email, etc. The program then simply generates a bw-image which you just place on a printed page — or on a webpage, no matter really, you can put it anywhere: T‑shirt, project it on a wall… Pointing the phone to that stamp with appropriate software links you to the target.

I‑nigma 4 — a free app for iPhone

Then — as a media consumer — the only thing you need is a QR reader in your smart phone. For iPhone there are about a dozen or so to choose from which are free — and another dozen which costs you about the price of a cup of coffee. I mentioned already the SCAN app; my other two favorites presently are “RedLaser” and “I‑nigma 4”, both available in the iTunes for free. There are still some bugs in several of these programs and they all have their strong points and their weak points. But they share the fact that they are dead easy to use.

Does not get more simple than that, does it?

Why Would You Want to Get into This — and How about the iPad?

You could argue that you can always type a web address into your smart phone. Yeah, right… My 48-year-old eyes and my fingers resembling short cut frank­furters do not enjoy tapping long arbitrary web addresses consisting of all kind of weird symbols onto an iPhone and seeing if I got it right — which very rarely happens. In that respect, QR looks like God-given.

Simplicity and ease of use: the corners­tones of how Apple for instance has made its success.

iPad? It does not have a camera — and you can already type with the larger display . You do not always have it with you whereas the majority of us do not leave the house without our smart phone. Yes, I might chance opinion with the next generation of iPads which naturally will have built-in cameras, but presently it’s a no go. But sure, yes: if you want to get a bit more technical, you can always set your smart phone and iPad to sync their browser bookmarks and thus view the content on the iPad as well… but that sort of under­mines the above mentioned simplicity and ease of use ‑argument.

Augmented Reality of the Esquire Magazine

Some of you might have seen e.g. the Augmented Reality Issue the Esquire Magazine published some time ago with Robert Downing Jr. (see the video). Or something similar. But there are two major differences:

  1. It was done to get the WOW-effect. It was one time only, not taken into daily production. Not intended to really create daily rich content which might benefit the paper and the brand beneath it in the long run.
  2. It was done by pointing a printed magazine to a webcam. Kind of pointless, if you think about it. A world of diffe­rence when you do it with a mobile device you carry all the time with you. Not to get the WOW but to distribute useful information.

I hope I have made my point. I did try to make it as concisely as I could — and with not too much passion sneaking through. But it was hard :-). Damn it was hard.

I honestly think this is really, really cool. Way past cool, actually. Remains to be seen if anybody else — and hopefully a publisher or two — sees it the same way.


Thank you: Markku Jokisalo and guys of Studio Varustamo, Olli Häkämies and my students in the University of Tampere for giving me inspiration and ideas in writing this.

25 Replies to “QR Code: Rich Media to Meet the Legacy Print?”

  1. Massive implica­tions.… I had talked to someone about this idea regarding travel books/guides. Instead of photos — or as well as — you could have maps.

  2. Great post mate!

    I downloaded the app and was very impressed at the immediacy of the reading and redirection.

    Initial reactions are pointing to the blazing obvious that QR codes have monumental potential.

    First port of call = business cards!

    Thanks for the heads up Kari, I have to admit, I did say ‘wow’ several times out loud.

    1. Hi there -

      funny, I actually thought of you while writing this.… as “I’m sure this is stuff Peter knows how to appreciate… ”
      The potential is enormous — one sees immediately the possi­bi­lities. The question is: does IS/IL/HS/AL etc. react to this. Or even better: if Metro, City, etc. take this into their routine — what does that mean to papers you have to pay for. Or is it as you said in one of your posts some time ago: “that train has gone already…” — if I remember correctly the reference was to the stylish but lame HS iPad app.
      Anyway — I hope some publisher would — and do it soon — as this would mean immediately work for creative people/photographers who know how to create original interactive multi­media content …

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.


  3. No Tomas — had not seen that, thank you for sharing.
    Let me say publicly still the obvious: no, this is not new — like I’d think I’ve invented something. No, I’m saying that this technology could be a life savior — at least tempo­rarily — to the daily news print — which is in state of denial and still believes — and is still trying to convince us — that the printed paper is the king. This kind of technology could make the gap between the two worlds a bit smaller…

    Why has nobody imple­mented this into their basic toolkit of news- and story­telling? Think if IL or IS would use this… Which one do you think would sweep the table in terms of younger generation of — potential — readers…?

  4. Great post, Kari.

    I have thought that I am the only person excited about QR codes in Finland! Obviously not.

    I actually used one of these in a project last spring: I included a code in a customer mag I produced. The mag was available for several months, but you could see the upcoming events for the next few weeks by scanning the code. So the content was always up to date.

    Your Madonna example was great. I have also thought about a musical use for QR codes: you could add music to a story with a code. How about reading an article about a musician and simul­ta­neously listen to him play? That would be great.


    1. Sure — that be dead easy to do and very infor­mative. Sky is the limit in possible applications.
      A friend in the FB suggested that one should make a T‑shirt with a code and scanning it would launch a multi­media — video style — where the first element would be zooming out of the scanned shirt…

      But: if you have read my blog earlier, you know my niche — or obsession- is rich, nonlinear multi­media story­telling, photo­graphy and the future of the media. Thus, I tend to see the world thru that kind of glasses — and to be a bit “tosikko” i.e. square in this respect.

      Thank you for commenting — does not happen so often in Finland.

    1. Or from the classic barcode… Well, maybe the only thing is the scanner availa­bility, as you suggest… Apple — as such… I don’t think that is decisive. QR scanners to iPhone have emerged because there is a demand for them in the market. Some other technology could also do the job. But for some reason, it has never gotten the buzz.

    2. I assume you have to pay for using Upcode. The reader is free, but for generating the codes you need a license. This is only my unders­tanding. Does anyone know better?

  5. We had a business idea which was suppose to utilize this code. No money from Tekes or any other place. We believed then, we knew.

    1. Hi -

      yes, that infamous penet­ration… Most probably that has been (at least until now) the problem why something like this has not been used more exten­sively. But — I do suppose you have an iPhone — or because of your line of work you do have at least an access to an iPhone: with the user experience made this easy in some of the smart phones, the time might be right for this. Remember, SMS was around for years as a possi­bility and nobody used it… and then suddenly — boom!

      Finland — I am very sorry to say — is a really low tech, archaic country when it comes to the consumer end in these matters ( — contrary to the common belief that we are somehow high tech) The high tech exists in production industry, not in the hands — or better said — in the heads of the consumers.

      See eg. this on our phone penet­ration: http://bit.ly/c8bOKS I mean, that’s really really discou­raging… And this is the country where people k consider themselves as high tech?

      But, I am sure you have already visioned some end-user application of QR for Shoot It Live? And you agree on the potential over there as well…

      My basic argument — what I am raving about — is: our legacy print (like your Aftonbladet, Expressen, DN, etc.) is dying very fast… Their attemps to use eg. iPad consists of versioning a clone of the Paper for the net. Paper, Paper, Paper… When the ballgame about news, infor­mation and enter­tainment is totally a different one — as your company is a very good example of.

      QR might be a nice “bridge over troubled water…” (well, if I managed to get Jim Morrison into my post I can make other stupid allusions… ;-)) — something to give the papers an edge — at least for a while and until they manage (or most probably don’t manage…) to figure out the next move.

      Thanks for your comment — nice to know you keep on eye on my writings.


  6. Kari,

    Great post. Thanks for sharing. I have already sent this along to two of my corporate clients with sugges­tions on how to incor­porate it into their social media and consumer printed materials. It has limitless potential.

    1. Hi Rick -

      thank you commenting — and nice to see you again. Very sorry about not keeping in touch after Beijing, no excuses, my bad totally…
      I just actually checked your portfolio — very nice indeed, really liked your images. Now I understand what you meant when you said the motorsport is your thing. Great images.
      It was funny, your portfolio opens with a shot from Beijing 100m final (I suppose…?) with the rings… I remember we met afterwards and you told me about the shot and I thought that’s a good one… and then during the relay I climbed all the way up (but to the side) and got Asafa Powell going thru the rings all by himself. One of my best images from those games — very much inspired by you.

      But yes, QR: amazing potential, you saw it immediately also. I was just thinking, you probably do work for racers as well? How about having a code sticker on the car somewhere, something the true fans can point their iPhone to to take them to some “exclusive — true fans only” image galleries or something. Or whatever, just a thought.

      Good to see you, let’s try to keep more in touch in the future. You still live in Miami (if I remember correctly)?

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