It’s always difficult to admit when you are wrong about something, especially when you have spent a lot of time publicly railing against it. In this case, while I’m not quite going so far as to admit that I’m wrong about the death of the QR code (I waxed poetically about this several months ago), I am willing to take another look at the technology.
In fairness to my original assertion that QR codes were dead, I was clear to pin a majority of blame on marketers and their misuse of QR codes versus the technology itself. I also spelled out several reasons why QR codes hadn’t succeeded.
Since my post back in April, I’ve had a number of conversations with people in the industry, including a mobile product manager from AT&T who sent me several great counterpoints via email following my QR code rant.
Also, the environment has changed a bit since April; so, in the spirit of setting the record straight, here are some updates on my “five reasons” contributing to the death of QR codes and why these may or may not still hold true:
1. Apple and Android have yet to ship a phone with a QR reader pre-loaded.
Update: With the launch of IOS7, the Apple Passbook app (something I continue to be bullish on) now comes with a QR code reader pre-loaded. This is a huge change in events as consumers now at least have a shot of knowing how to read a QR code.
To that end, after reading my Death of a QR Code post, my 60-something dad sent me a message saying, “On the occasions when I thought I might scan a QR, I had neither the time nor the inclination to do the download.”
Also, a little known secret according to Google Plus friend, Amit Bhor, “Android ships with Google Now, which has a QR reader built in. Very few know this and even fewer actually use it.” Score one for the QR codes.
2. In many cases, the mobile experience sitting behind the QR code is a disappointment.
Update: While many of the experiences behind QR codes are still a disappointment, there are instances (particularly in the industrial sections of business) where having a QR code that can be scanned by hardware allows for seemly connections to deep linked product specs, etc.
I heard from several folks that realtors are also using QR codes on property signs, allowing for quick connections to the right property information. Maybe the takeaway here is that QR codes are better when not used by marketers.
3. Some QR codes end up in places with no wifi or connectivity on your phone (airplane, subway station).
Update: With wifi and connectivity becoming more and more ubiquitous, this is becoming less of an issue. The big game changer for me on this one is the FAA’s recent approval of continuous device usage on planes. Meanwhile, more and more train stations/underground spaces are piping in connectivity. Conclusion here is that it’s still an issue but less so than in the past.
4. Many consumer packaged goods companies feel that committing valuable space on their label/packaging to a standard UPC code and a QR code is overkill.
Update: This will continue to be an issue, especially when space is limited (like on a candy bar). However, there may be a case to be made on items with higher purchase consideration like laptops or expensive bottles of wine.
To that end, one of my commenters last go around, Justin Balk, commented that “if you do your research you will find that QR codes can replace barcodes because of how much more information they can fit and they can be missing up to 30% of the QR code and still be able to be scanned in which barcodes cannot.”
While Justin’s point is well taken, my bigger issue was that nearly all packaged goods are labeled with UPC, so to redo every label with a QR code instead is a daunting task.
And unfortunately, some older point of sale (POS) systems are still not able to read QR codes. Takeaway here is that some — not all — packaged goods might benefit from the use of QR codes.
5. Even when a QR code is done right (link to mobile-optimized site, available connectivity, clear call-to-action), it’s hard to convince oneself that the minute it takes to pull out your phone, open up a scan-friendly app (assuming one had been downloaded), scan the QR code and then wait for the experience to load, is worth it.
Update: This one is closely connected with my first point regarding the two major operating systems originally not offering a native QR code reader. Now that iOS7 (and apparently Google Now) allow mobile users to scan codes, deciding whether or not to use the reader vs. the browser is a push.
Where this gets interesting is as wearable technology like Google Glass proliferates, scannable codes like QR codes could see a huge uptick in utility.
Final Thoughts The most interesting outcome of writing the Death of the QR code post was discovering what a polarizing topic this is. For the most part, people either agreed wholeheartedly or disagreed vehemently. It was also one of my most commented on (70+) and shared (1,500+) posts I’ve ever written in my seven plus years of blogging.
Sometime soon, I plan to cover the state of NFC (near field communication) as a technology. I’m wondering… if I declare that dead, will I get a similar reaction?