Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Using QRcodes to trigger actions in native phone apps

I have written about QRcode uses and I am a little unsure about the future of QRcodes .

Despite this, let me share with you a very interesting trick I learnt from the article "Getting the Most Out of QR Codes Using URI Schemes".

Essentially, think about the mailto URL which allows the browser to open the systems' default mail client. It seems such non-http URI schemes can be done for mobile phones allowing you to scan a QRcode to open your smartphone native apps to carry out an action. Somewhat similar to mailto: is tel: which instead of launching your mail client with a sender email, it will call the number on your phone.

It seems if your mobile browser opens say tel:, it will call that number on your phone. So make your Qrcode go there and you are done right?

Unfortunately if you put such non-html strings into most qrcode readers it won't work. To get around this problem you shorten tel: in a url shortener first and then use that shortened URL to generate the QRcode. The article suggests using tiny url

How about using url shorteners like bit.ly or goo.gl that both shorten the url and generate qrcodes? Unfortunately both seem to fail to accept such URI schemes. The QRCode below when scanned via QRcode reader will call my office number on your phone.

Scan this QRcode to call my office phone

Steps are:

1. Shorten  tel:6516xxxx (xxxx are real numbers) in tiny url to get http://tinyurl.com/8897uk

2. I use http://tinyurl.com/8897uka with bit.ly to generate a QRcode http://bit.ly/z4LDXD.qr you could of course use any QRcode generator not just bit.ly

As the article states you can do the same trick to email (mailto:?query), SMS (sms:) etc.

Even more interesting the same method works for many apps as they register URI schemes when installed.

 Scan this QRcode to skype me (Aaron-Tay)

Doing a FourSquare campaign and want to have it easy to check-in on your FourSquare app? Use this

Scan this QRcode to open our NUS Central Library venue on your Foursquare app
Other interesting ideas includes a QR code that when scanned Facetime specific numbers, use gtalk, yahoo messenger, AOL, Windows Livemessenger to chat with librarian etc. 

For more apps URI see this, or this  .

Obviously to be able to use QRcodes to carry out actions this way is really powerful compared to just opening a webpage or displaying info on your screen. Libraries have or could use this to automatically sms, call numbers for help (great time saver) and maybe even open a IM app to talk to a librarian. 

As you open the app as opposed to webpage, you speed things up. For example you could of course generate a QRcode which could push to your FourSquare venue on web but then the user would have to login to Foursquare on his mobile browser before he could check-in (chances are high if he is a regular user of FourSquare he uses the app to check-in), while this technique opens the app immediately and brings you to right venue for check-in. Automatically entering phone numbers or SMS by scanning saves a lot of time as well.

The main drawback is that  firstly if the user does not have the Foursquare app already this doesn't work. So it might be a good idea to use this for apps everyone or almost everyone has eg Youtube, Google maps, iTunes (scan to go to specific iTune app),ibooksFacebook! Secondly, some of this might work differently on iOS versus Android or other phones. 

So I guess in the case of FourSquare campaigns if you were promoting to newbies trying to attract them to use FourSquare then a Qrcode that links to the mobile web might be better?

"What makes this particular technique so amazing is that it doesn’t rely on the QR-code reader being very advanced; all it needs is for the app creator (be it Skype, Evernote or Angry Birds) you want to launch and interface with to use the system development API to register a URI scheme." -- Getting the Most Out of QR Codes Using URI Schemes 

The article also lists very interesting ideas such as calling a bookmarklet, certain IM clients, opening native Apple apps etc, I am still mulling over library ideas

In any case, I wonder if anyone creating a library native app, has done something like this and registered URI schemes so you can do something clever? 
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