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Most of us with WAP enabled mobiles would probably agree that up until now the feature has been a little clumsy, slightly awkward, and quite a lot short of delivering on its full potential. The small size of phone screens meant that sites could not be viewed or used as their designers had intended (apart from a select few websites which developed specific mobile browsing versions), and the lack of a mouse made browsing a laboured process at best. In short, aside from using it to access useful (but brief) information on the move – such as football scores or traffic updates, mobile WAP has hardly been the main use of our mobile phones. All this even despite the best efforts of many major networks to offer periods of free access so that the service could be tried by users.

One aspect of the problem has been that up until now, mobile internet solely aspired to being a portable, small-screen version of desktop internet. Little attempt to truly capitalise on the individuality of mobile phone hardware had thus far been made. However it seems this could all be about to change, with the iPhone-generation of camera phones which feature built-in QR Code reader technology. First off though, here’s a quick summary of QR Code technology for those new to it:

A QR Code is basically a two-dimensional bar-code (or matrix code) which allows its contents to be decoded at very high speed (hence QR – short for ‘Quick Response’). Superior to standard bar-codes, owing to their much greater capacity for storing information over a smaller area, QR Codes are already in widespread use in various industry sectors in Japan (where the technology was developed in 1994 by Japanese corporation Denso-Wave). Uses are varied, but include vehicle part manufacturing, parcel tracking, and food product monitoring (the codes contain data regarding expiration date). The codes resemble the image below, though are typically far smaller, and have the useful capability to function even if damaged, stained or ripped. QR Code storage capacity varies depending on content type, with the potential to incorporate numerical, alphanumerical, binary or even Kanji/Kana Japanese letters as data. More recently Micro QR Codes have been introduced which are much smaller, lower capacity, versions of the same system, with the potential to hold up to 35 characters. It is the potential of these Micro QR Codes to carry the data of a URL address, combined with the ability of next-gen mobiles to read this data, that will shape the future of mobile internet…

Essentially Micro QR Codes will allow for easily phone-importable links to be created and placed all around us, ensuring quick and easy access to a huge range of sites. The possibilities are quite literally endless, but here are a few potential avenues of development:

1. The use of Micro QR Codes containing URL info on poster advertising. Imagine for example seeing an advert on a wall at a train station and wanting to find out more: simply take out your mobile, scan the QR Code in the corner of the poster with the phone’s camera lens, and instantly access all the additional information avaliable at the URL provided by the QR code. This would greatly increase the effectiveness of such advertising; compare the difference in number of visitors to a website related to a new chart cd, for example, if instead of having to remember to access the relevant link at a later time we effortlessly and instantly access the information while on the move, at train stations, bus stops, etc.

2. QR Code plug-in for Mozilla Firefox browser. This already available extension for Firefox allows the browser to display a micro QR Code in the corner of the window, (similar in size to the padlock security icon), which can be read by a mobile so that the site can be accessed later without having to remember the exact URL. Potentially greatly useful if checking traffic or public transport information before, and then also during a journey. The plug-in can be downloaded here.

3. Newspaper and Magazine articles. Publications could include micro QR Codes containing URL info at the end of articles, allowing readers on the move to access additional extended follow-up information to stories through their phones.

In summary the QR Code system potentially offers a very quick and effortless way to instantly import URLs into our WAP phone browsers. Though this won’t make the phone screen any bigger, and won’t negate the sometimes expensive charges certain networks apply to WAP use, it certainly could do away with the clumsiness of the current method of entering links on mobile browsers. It may not make anything new possible, but, if well implemented, could make what was previously only possible now actually practical as well, ultimately bringing us a step closer to realising the futuristic vision of truly quick, easy, and practical internet access for all mobile users on the move.

Dejan Levi