QR Code Specification to Undergo Minor Revision

At the last international standards organization work group meeting that I attended in Kyoto (ISO/IEC JTC1/SC31/WG1) one of the topics we discussed was a revision to QR Code that will be proposed.  It will be a minor revision, not a more sweeping change that would introduce new formats of the symbol (such as rectangular layouts) that some of us had speculated.

It seems that those more radical changes will not be proposed as an international standard, or if they are at some later point they will be introduced in a new standard, perhaps to be called iQR, but I have no new information about that.

I think that the most radical of the changes that will be proposed include some more efficient ways to include common preambles to urls, such as http:// and that alone is enough to render existing QR Code reading apps incompatible with new symbols. So it will be interesting to see if this proposal does indeed go forward and if it will be approved and adopted.

A less radical change to the document (which is ISO/IEC 18004 by the way) is the change its title back to QR Code Symbology Specification, from QR Code 2005 Symbology Specification.  That change was originally made in 2005 because the new “symbology” contained incompatible additions, such as Micro QR Code and some other things that would render existing readers not fully compatible with the new “QR Code”. Changing the name of the symbology was an efficient way of making it clear existing readers were compatible with QR Code (the original) and not the new formats included as part of QR Code 2005.  This same conundrum will appear now and it may be too clever by half to change the symbology from the old QR Code 2005 to the “new” QR Code. (Never mind any possible confusion between QR Code before 2005 and QR Code now).  Anyway, all ISO documents, including 18004 are dated with the publication date so it is possible to unambiguously specify which version of the ISO specification you are compliant with. It is just not so easy with the title of the document, or the symbology name.

These kinds of issues with compatibility come up often when considering revisions to ISO documents.  In general, we attempt to minimize incompatibility and disruption to existing technology, which at the same time minimizes the scope of changes that we are comfortable with.  This can indeed prevent some improvements from being made.  If such changes are compelling and needed they can be specified separately in a new standard.  It becomes a balancing act to choose the best way forward with such improvements.  I’d appreciate your comments and feedback on this issue, specificaly with regard to improvements to QR Code.  Does the “soft” nature of QR Reader apps suggest a different approach to incompatibility and redefine “disruption” out of the equation?

by Glenn Spitz

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