Read and Decode QR Codes Without a Smartphone

by mikepk on March 12, 2010

By far the best way to read QR codes is to use a smartphone with a barcode reader (there are a ton of them for the iPhone in the app store), but what if you don’t have a smartphone?

There are many people who either do not have a smartphone or don’t already have a barcode reader application. When I created SnapMyinfo, one of my original goals was to enable QR code reading for a larger number of people, making these 2d barcodes more useful. I’ve moved snapmyinfo in some new directions lately, but I still maintain the goal of making these barcodes more accessible.

It’s my belief that lowering the technical barrier to using these optical barcodes, even if the decoding method is sub-optimal, will increase their usage, exposure, and adoption. This led me to create a way to read these 2d barcodes without a smartphone. What I’ve built is an email-based QR code decoder that works on photo attachments. Initially this decoder only worked with snapmyinfo-specific QR codes but recently I’ve removed that restriction to start testing general QR codes. The only requirements are that your mobile phone have a camera and be able to send email or photo text messages to emails (e.g. verizon picture messaging). This includes many of the so-called “feature” phones that allow sending text messages to emails.

How do I use it?

path.png

  1. Take a photo of the QR barcode you want to decode. It’s best to leave some white space around the barcode and try to keep the image sharp. (pull away if you have to)
  2. Send the photo to the address shown via email or text message.
  3. Wait for the response

This is still test software, so I make no guarantees at the moment, but it should work. The more examples of different devices, their picture, email and text characteristics will help me refine and solidify the decoder.

I’m opening this up so people can test it and let me know their experiences with it. I know I need to improve the formatting for text messages and I’ll work on it as I get example text messages.

I’m still working out kinks in the system so I’d love feedback.

  • Pingback: Overcoming the Limitations of QR Codes as Business Cards — mikepk

  • Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  • http://asaerich.myopenid.com/ Asaerich

    Just tried it via Cricket with my ancient Motorola SLVR. It was a bit slow, but it worked like a charm. Thank you for opening up this service!

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    Great! I'm glad it worked for you and that you've found it useful.

  • Tappinn

    This is great. Nice work, I will be using this with clients who don't have capable phones. Works like a charm.

  • Japzone

    Just tried it with Verizon LG Cosmos. Got a message back from “[email protected]”(something like that) that said Something about “Failed Delivery” and “Sent Message Back” in the Subject but whenever I try to open the Message my Phone Reboots, Every Single Time. Why is it doing this? Any help would be appreciated as I can't get a QR Reader App for my phone because Verizon doesn't have one for Feature Phones(which is what the LG Cosmos is).

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    Hey there, just got back from vacation. I'm sorry this didn't work for you. Turns out some spammers started sending messages to the email decoder with some really messed up image attachments. It gummed up the whole system and was causing all decodes (for the past week or so) to fail. I've cleared out the bad messages and it looks like it's working again. I'm going to add a filter to filter out these broken messages to fix this particular problem. Thanks for the heads up!

  • http://andyking.net/ Andy King

    This is great! There's a QR code scavenger hunt I want to do (http://qrgame.tumblr.com/) and I don't have a smart phone, so this is a perfect solution. I'm using an LG VX9100/Verizon enV2 and it worked perfectly. Thanks!

  • Shivorath

    When I first found this thought it'd be excellent, but the service stopped working after a couple of days, now my messages say they cannot be deliverd. What happened?

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    Is it still failing you now? I fixed the issue from last week and a few tests I've done show that it's working.

  • Japzone

    I just used it again and it worked fine. And again using Verizon with LG Cosmos.

  • Shivorath

    Huh, figures that it's fixed right when I finally decide to comment about it :) Thanks for keeping this up! I was afraid you'd decided to take it down for some reason. Just tried it and it works again, great!

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    Good, I'm just glad it's still working!

  • Shivorath

    Huh, figures that it's fixed right when I finally decide to comment about it :) Thanks for keeping this up! I was afraid you'd decided to take it down for some reason. Just tried it and it works again, great!

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    Good, I'm just glad it's still working!

  • Ttyberg

    Tried using this service today and message was sent but I received error message about delivery.

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    I’ll check it, thanks for the heads up.

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    I found a couple of stuck messages in the decoder. I cleared them out so it should be working again. I’ll look into why it got stuck in the first place. Thanks for letting me know.

  • Angela

    Just got a message back saying “mail delivery failed: returning message to sender” – can anything be done about this? I’d really like to make use this service!

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    Hi Angela, I just checked and something about how rogers sends SMS -> email causes the decoder to crash. Rogers appears to add a bunch of random small images in the message (probably for tracking) that make snapmyinfo get heartburn. Later tonight, I’ll see if I can add a fix to avoid this problem (don’t have time at the moment). If you send another message from rogers, I’m guessing it will cause the decoder to crash again (not positive about that). I’ll reply here when I get a fix in place.

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    I’ve put in a temporary fix to avoid rogers messages causing the decoder to crash, you should be able to use the service now. I need to do a little more analysis to see if I can find a more permanent solution, but it is working now.

  • Pingback: In Retro Cite 12/05/2010 « A Retrospective Saunter

Previous post:

Next post: