What is the difference between a QR Code and an AR Code?

26 Apr 2021

With the health restrictions seen in many countries, the Western world is rediscovering the value of QR Codes. In the Asian world, the use of QR Codes has continued to spread since their democratization in the 2010s.

QR Code technology has evolved and thus allows in 2021 to display 3D interfaces and immersives experiences in Augmented Reality. The AR evolution of the QR Code technology is called AR Code.

The evolution of the QR Code

The QR Code was created in 1999 by engineer Masahiro Hara working for the Japanese company Denso Wave. This company produces industrial equipment, mainly for the automotive industry. Denso Wave created this optical data transfer system for industrial purposes, then made this technology accessible to everyone through a free license while retaining open patent rights.

QR Code technology was adopted quickly in Japan, many Japanese cell phones from the early 2000s were equipped to scan them. Asian countries followed this trend.

Gradually, QR Codes appeared in Europe and the United States, before becoming popular with the arrival of the smartphones and their third-party applications to scan these types of barcodes.

Today, smartphone manufacturers natively integrates QR Code reading into their OS. Particularly Apple, which recently introduced a dedicated button to scan these codes in iOS and iPadOS. Rumors are suggesting the arrival of an upcoming QR Code redefined by Apple in order to obtain specific experiences. The only one experience that has been revealed for the moment, is the downloading of mini-applications called “App Clips” via the “App Clips codes”.

app clips codes

The use of QR codes has grown rapidly in the West, but the Asian world has always been one step ahead. When in Europe, we used QR Codes to access websites, Asian countries used them for consumers data listing and industrial equipment maintenance. Today these uses are growing in the West, while in Asia we pay for shopping with QR Codes, we connect to social networks with QR Codes and we start to display experiences in augmented reality by scanning them.

From the QR Code to the AR Code

The evolution of the QR Code follows the evolution of information technologies because it is, above all, an optical recognition system linked (or not) to a remote server. It easily adapts to new digital uses.

The abbreviation QR Code stands for Quick Response Code, its initial name shows the technological definition of this invention made for industrial purposes. Various codes are already created with this quick optical recognition technology: Snapcode by Snapchat, App Clips Code by Apple, ....

In the era of websites, a QR Code referred to a simple web page, in the era of social networks and e-commerce QR Codes allows data exchanges and payments, in the future era of augmented reality the QR Code technology will give access to AR experiences.

The AR Codes are QR Codes that anchors augmented reality experiences.

What's Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality is a technology that combines spatial computing and optical processes to implement virtual elements in a user's field of view. It is also associated with acoustic technologies to reproduce an immersive sound environment around the user.

To understand the process of displaying augmented reality, you have to understand 4 concepts:

  • The Equipment: The devices capable of displaying augmented reality are already popular, most of them are basic smartphones (Consumers augmented reality glasses will arrive on the mass market this year). Today, the number of AR-compatible smartphones is estimated at over 2 billion. JavaScript WebAR is the most universal AR technology and simply require a web browser that supports it to be displayed. But the more advanced AR rendering technologies are found on the high-end smartphones. The Apple's AR rendering system: ARKit is installed on nearly a billion devices. Google's AR rendering system, ARCore, is installed on a similar number of smartphones around the world.
  • The Content: Today, AR is used daily by millions of users around the world, mainly for AR games or photo/video filters on social media. But they are only a very small part of the possible AR content you can get. In a future AR world, the whole interfaces will be displayed in augmented reality: computer screen, telephone screen, TV, cinema, ... It will also be possible to be immersed with events recorded in 3D (Apple patent), these experiences will give a new dimension of social interactions. Microsoft mesh technology demonstrated this possibility via its Hololens 2 headset:

  • The Rendering: The digital giants have been fighting for a decade over AR renderings. They are also associated with the equipment, as they require control of many viewer parameters. In this, AR rendering systems are generally integrated into proprietary OS with the exception of the open source format known as WebAR which tries to find a place for simple AR display. The digital giants own their hardware ecosystem which facilitates the development of immersive renderings. Apple is one of the most advanced companies when it comes to AR rendering with ARkit. Then come Google (AR Core), Microsoft (Hololens) and the Asian electronics giants like Samsung and Huawei, ... Recently Facebook, the social media company, made announcements for the development of future AR devices. It follows their VR plans after the takeover of the company Occulus in 2014. The strategy of the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is to develop the ecosystem of VR headsets and then reach the development of the AR ecosystem when the hardware is ready.

  • The Anchoring: In an augmented world, it will be essential to locate augmented reality experiences. Here are the types of anchors that could be used:

    - Anchoring in the direct environment: When we want to display an AR experience in front of us (Example: An AR game)
    - Anchor via the longitude and the latitude of a device: for example, display AR information at a specific location in a city. Will require the launch of a dedicated application recognizing these anchors.
    - Anchoring by the recognition of an object, a building, a place, a face ...: Technique widely used on social networks. Could also be done via the WebAR technologies.
    - Ultra wideband anchoring: An anchoring via a small radio wideband transmitter. Apple unveiled 
    in April 2021 its AirTag accessory that is equipped with this technology. It is expected to display AR in the near future.
    - Anchoring by augmented reality codes: The universal anchoring solution, the technology is already widely used to access classic web data via QR Codes. These QR Codes are now being transformed into AR Codes to anchor AR experiences on products, membership cards, storefronts, tourist sites, places, etc.

The AR Code technology participates in the concepts of AR anchoring, AR content and AR rendering. The scanned AR Code redirects users and their devices to the dedicated AR content and renderings. The AR content depends on the type of experience hosted on our AR Cloud server or on a third-party platforms such as social media (Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, ....).

Here are 3 types of AR Codes with different content and rendering processes:

3 types of AR Codes

1 - Immersive: Rendering: ARkit & ARCore / Content: AR Code Cloud server

2 - Flying Over: Rendering: WebAR / Content: AR Code Cloud server

3 - Social Media: Rendering: Instagram / Content: Instagram server