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Chrome for iOS Gains QR Code and Barcode Scanning

I was playing around on my iPhone the other day and happened to use 3D Touch on the icon for the Google Chrome Web browser. Imagine my surprise when one of the “quick actions” that Chrome presented was Scan QR Code. And indeed, tapping it brought up a QR code scanning screen. It turns out that QR code and barcode scanning are new to version 56 of Chrome for iOS, which Google updated on 1 February 2017.

For those who aren’t aware, a QR code uses regions of rectangles within a square to encode data, most commonly a URL to a Web page. QR codes are used in advertising, publishing, product tracking, and other fields where it’s helpful to have a graphical element stand in for a URL that would likely be impossible to remember or difficult to type, as I’ve done in the TCN screenshot below. QR codes are also used to seed two-factor authentication systems (see “Authy Protects Your Two-Factor Authentication Tokens,” 6 November 2014), and some companies even use the technology in payment systems — see “Walmart Pay Is Better Than You Might Expect,” 18 July 2016. Various apps and Web sites can create QR codes for you, and any designer using Adobe InDesign can insert one into a document merely by choosing Object > Generate QR Code.

Although QR codes have been around since 1994 and in common use since 2009, they’ve never really taken off. That’s likely because Apple never built a general-purpose QR code scanner into the iPhone’s Camera app. (The Wallet app can scan QR codes, but it only understands QR codes associated with Wallet passes.) Glenn Fleishman bemoaned this lack almost five years ago in “Apple Could Make QR Codes Work with a Simple Tweak” (2 July 2012).

With Chrome, scanning a QR code is easy, but you likely wouldn’t figure it out on your own because there is absolutely no indication of the feature within the app itself. Instead, you must either 3D Touch the app (if you have a compatible iPhone) and then tap Scan QR Code or search in Spotlight on “QR” and then tap a Scan QR Code search result.

Then, center the QR code you want to scan in the camera’s viewfinder. Chrome scans nearly instantly (so much so that capturing the screenshots was hard), and puts the URL associated with the QR code into the address field so you can preview it — just tap the Go button to load the page.

Chrome can also scan traditional barcodes, which it feeds directly into Google’s search engine to find product pages and the like. In the screenshot below, I’ve scanned the barcode on the bottom of my Garmin Forerunner 620 GPS watch box, and Google promptly displayed related information.

If you have a dedicated QR code scanning app that you use regularly, you may prefer to stick with it. In particular, I found it clumsy to invoke Chrome’s scanner repeatedly, so a dedicated app may work better in such situations. But if, like me, you have to do a Spotlight search to find your QR code scanner anyway, it’s faster and easier to use Chrome from the Spotlight results screen.


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Comments about Chrome for iOS Gains QR Code and Barcode Scanning
(Comments are closed.)

"or search in Spotlight on “QR” and then tap a Scan QR Code search result." Maybe I'm behind on the nomenclature or missed reading something, but if I do a search (in the window that appears if you drag down from the top), iScanner is the only app that shows up. And if I search for Chrome it opens and I don't see how to do scan.

I get that I can do a 3D touch, but I have to find Chrome (is there a way to search and go to the app instead of opening it (macOS, show in Finder)?

Thanks for the story. I almost never do a QR scan because I never remember how to do it.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-02-14 10:22
Hmm, I'm not sure why Spotlight isn't finding it. Try going into Settings > General > Spotlight Search and making sure that Chrome is enabled there. You might also make sure the other switches at the top are on, though they didn't matter in my testing.
Curtis Wilcox  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2017-02-17 09:56
I have two thoughts: either Greg and I didn't see it in the Spotlight search results because it was hidden behind the keyboard (it's not in the Applications "bubble" but in its own separate Chrome bubble) or Spotlight doesn't include it in the results until the feature has been invoked at least once. The latter possibility begs the question of how someone could invoke the feature on a phone without force touch support.

When I force touched Chrome to start it, the app didn't even have permission to use my camera yet. I've confirmed the Camera's Privacy setting isn't a factor, Spotlight includes Chrome and dedicated scanning apps even if they don't have permission to access the camera.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-02-17 10:06
Oh, that's interesting. I'll have to try tonight on Tristan's iPhone 6, which doesn't have 3D Touch.
Will Howard  2017-02-19 01:51
I had a dedicated QR scanning app, and Spotlight found that as a default. I take theat to mean the Chrome QR reader will appear in Spotlight if there isn't another QR scanning app
Anders Borg  2017-02-14 14:06
"they’ve never really taken off" They have industry/logistics-wise, but not for public use. I still try to change that.

Can it only be activated via 3D Touch? That's a bummer, and not smart by Google.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-02-14 16:10
It's good to hear that QR codes are being used more in the back end of logistics systems.

3D Touch and Spotlight searches are the only way, yes. That's probably fine for casual users, but for anyone doing serious stuff with QR codes, a dedicated app would make more sense.
Curtis Wilcox  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2017-02-17 10:02
Yes, since Chrome's two options are 1) open a web page if the code is a URL or 2) put the text in a Google search box, its QR scan feature is not suitable for all options. Last year I made a large, dense QR code for the back of a business card which is a vcard, at least some scanning apps can turn it into a contact record.
The QR code scanner will work on older iPhones too. The trick is to disable Siri in Restrictions and then doing a search for QR. A Scan QR Code result will appear without other app suggestions.