Hate scanning QR codes? This clever Android feature could soon rescue you

QR Code
(Image credit: Pixabay)

If you've spent time hunched over a menu or up against your TV screen to open a QR code, you'll know the experience can still feel a bit last decade – but a smart new Android feature that Google is testing could finally make the QR code experience a lot more slick.

As spotted by Android analyst Mishaal Rahman, Google has updated its code scanner API for developers with the ability to detect QR codes in your camera frame, then automatically zoom in and read them. That means being able to scan them from much further away, rather than pressing your phone up against a shop window or manually zooming in.

While this auto-zoom tool for QR codes isn't in Android yet, it is now available for developers to include in their apps – and could also appear in Android 14, which should be rolling out in the next few weeks.

The latter looks increasingly likely, with X (formerly Twitter) user @AssembleDebug spotting that it's already rolling out in GMS (Google Mobile Services), which is the bunch of apps and APIs that Google licenses to Android phone manufacturers. You can see it in action in the video below.

The tech behind it is also more sophisticated than you might expect, as it uses Google's machine learning (ML) kit. This gives developers access to Google's advanced algorithms for visual analysis, for things like face detection, object detection and, yes, barcode scanning.

Google's Super Res zoom technology is also potentially involved, given that it's capable of real-time upscaling that can enhance distant objects and details, without the need for the kind of 'periscope' zoom hardware that's expected to finally appear in the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

Blast from the past

An Android phone on an orange background scanning a QR code

(Image credit: Google)

QR codes were invented way back in 1994, but they were given a new lease of life during the pandemic as a hands-free way for us to interact with restaurant and hotel menus.

They're still a fundamentally clunky experience, though, so this auto-zoom tool sounds like a potentially handy improvement to holding your smartphone up to museum signs or shop windows.

Still, we'll have to wait and see how well it works in practice with different Android phone cameras, and there are still security issues with QR codes that shouldn't be overlooked. Given the codes all look the same, some criminals have used them for phishing scams and malware delivery.

Some of the other Android 14 features we're looking forward to include boosted lock screen customizations, Google's answer to Apple's Find My network and proper passkey support. To find out if your phone supports the new OS and more, check out our guide to Android 14.

Mark Wilson
Senior news editor

Mark is TechRadar's Senior news editor. Having worked in tech journalism for a ludicrous 17 years, Mark is now attempting to break the world record for the number of camera bags hoarded by one person. He was previously Cameras Editor at both TechRadar and Trusted Reviews, Acting editor on Stuff.tv, as well as Features editor and Reviews editor on Stuff magazine. As a freelancer, he's contributed to titles including The Sunday Times, FourFourTwo and Arena. And in a former life, he also won The Daily Telegraph's Young Sportswriter of the Year. But that was before he discovered the strange joys of getting up at 4am for a photo shoot in London's Square Mile.