QR Codes vs. Data Matrix

Posted by Nicholas M. Roberts

Those of you with AT&T cellular service may have seen this on your most recent phone bill:

At first glance you may have thought it was a QR code, but it is in fact different. Well…sort of. The code pictured above is called Data Matrix. It is actually a style of 2D code that was developed about five years before QR codes. Although the code has been used for over two decades, U.S. companies are just now fighting over the patent seemingly as a result of the rise in the code’s popularity. However, it seems Data Matrix codes were originally developed by German inventors Klein Rolf-Dieter and Rohde Ulrich and was patented way back in 1992. You can view the patent here. To best understand the relationship between QR codes and Data Matrix, I have developed a quick resource guide. Hope this helps.

How Are QR Codes and Data Matrix Alike?

  • QR and Data Matrix are both 2D codes. Your standard barcode is called an EAN-13 and it is a 1D code.
  • They both have error correction capabilities as per the Reed-Solomon algorithm.
  • Both are ISO standards.

How Are QR Codes and Data Matrix Different?

  • QR codes can store up to 4296 alphanumeric characters. Data Matrix can only hold 2335.
  • QR codes can store Japanese Kanji letters, while Data Matrix cannot.
  • Data Matrix codes are more secure than QR.
  • The error correction capability of Data Matrix codes is about 33%, slightly higher than QR codes which is up to 30%.

Can My QR App Read Data Matrix Codes Too?

It depends which app you have. Many of the most popular apps can scan both. To my knowledge Barcode Scanner, ScanLife, Quickmark, BeeTagg, NeoReader, and Barcode can all read Data Matrix. Not all of these programs are available on some of the cellular platforms, however. Most of them are free, though, so if you’re using a different program there won’t be any cost when switching over. Consult this list for other readers that are compatible with both codes. I have heard positive feedback regarding i-Nigma.

Are There Apps That Read Data Matrix But Not QR?

All publically promoted apps read QR, many read Data Matrix too, but I have yet to find one that reads Data Matrix but not QR. Since Data Matrix technology was invented first, there are certainly machines somewhere that do this, but in terms of free downloads for your smart phone, I don’t think so.

This Whole Concept Has Gotten Me Curious, Where Can I Learn More About the Different Mobile Codes?

The first few pages of this PDF article from Open Mobile Alliance is easy to understand so it’s a great introduction, but if you keep reading there is plenty of material for experts on mobile codes as well.