Blog Post

QR Codes Hope to Be This Summer’s Breakaway Hit

Summer is on its way in North America. The days are getting longer, the weather’s warming up, and people are spending time outside. And nowadays, most of those people have a cellphone handy.

Startups in the long-simmering QR code market are hoping that the change in season, along with what they say is a “critical mass” of smart phones, will finally bring QR codes, barcodes that lead to URLs or information when scanned, into the mainstream. The idea is that when more people are out and about, the more likely it is that they’ll interact with QR codes on things like movie and concert promotion posters. And at least two QR code startups are in the process of closing on fresh rounds of funding to make sure they can seize what they think is a major opportunity to bring QR awareness to the masses. But are QR codes really a seasonal thing?

Los Angeles-based startup ShareSquare makes QR codes that lead to customized HTML5-based web applications. The majority of the company’s clients are in the entertainment industry, from independent musicians to large movie studios, and use ShareSquare’s QR codes on promotional materials. ShareSquare launched to the public in March after proving popular at the South by Southwest conference, CEO Matthias Galica said in an interview this week.

Galica says his company is quickly closing on about $1.5 million in funding to ensure that it can capitalize on what he says is a crucial time for the QR space. “Most of these QR placements are out of home, and [in the summer] people have the opportunity to interact with them,” Galica said, noting that the funds will be used to double the size of ShareSquare’s developer team. “We’re seeing the market really accelerate.” Summer is a huge time for concerts and big movies, so maybe he has a point.

Also currently in funding talks is Paperlinks, a Los Angeles-based startup. Paperlinks sells stationery products, like wedding invitations and business cards, which include QR codes linking back to a customized site. Paperlinks CEO Hamilton Chan told me in an interview this week he’s in the process of securing an undisclosed amount of venture capital to help fuel his company’s projected growth. “We want to grow very aggressively,” Chan said. “The time is right for QR codes.”

It bears mentioning, however, that not everyone is so bullish about QR technology’s current potential. In late March, Google (s GOOG) quietly shut down the QR code initiative it debuted for its Places product in 2009 . The word is, Google ditched QR to focus on developing near field communications (NFC) technology, which goes beyond offering more information about products. With NFC, people could use their mobile phones to buy things.

It could well be that both QR and NFC have widespread adoption, but in a world of ever-increasing mobile technology, there may not be enough room on the average consumer’s radar for two features that are so similar. That may be the real reason why QR companies see this summer as a now-or-never moment: They’re hoping QR will be the first to grab a place in the sun, and in consumer’s minds, ahead of NFC.

32 Responses to “QR Codes Hope to Be This Summer’s Breakaway Hit”

  1. Sadly, most of the comments here are based on some misconception around QR technology and its true value. They likely have a vested interest in some competing technology or lack any real knowledge of QR capabilities….or both! QR vs. NFC, seriously? Do your homework.

  2. Kimtag

    Just a note that as a connection hub ( that provides users with both NFC and QR Code support, we’d comment that it’s not necessarily NFC v. QR Code – certainly not until the price of NFC tags reduces substantially.


    A “Quick Response” (QR) Barcode.
    Is there growth potential in combining direct mail and smartphone technology? Are mailers — and consumers — ready for interactive direct mail?

    Smartphones already are playing a significant role in making it easier for customers to use some of the most popular services USPS offers (Link, 4/4). Now, the Postal Service wants mailers to incorporate mobile technology in their direct mail campaigns, beginning with a proposed special promotion this summer.

    During July and August, USPS wants to reward marketers and mailers who launch campaigns incorporating two-dimensional, smartphone-friendly barcodes on or in their mailings by providing them a 3 percent discount on postage. Customers who receive the special mailpieces can use their mobile devices to scan the barcodes for more information about the product or service the mailing is promoting.

    Tom Foti, manager, Marketing Mail, says the purpose of the promotion is to show how mail can be an important tool in online and mobile campaigns. “We recognize that the online world will continue to grow and thrive,” he says. “We want to make customers aware that mail can be an integral part of that communication. We believe online campaigns that use direct mail are more effective.”

    USPS has filed a notice of its intent to go forward with the proposal with the Postal Regulatory Commission.

  4. No one seemed to mention Microsoft GetTag? Thing is until a standard oem shipped tag reader is available on all smartphones it won’t be widely adapted. That’s the biggest problem.

  5. Sam S.

    QR seems like a dated technology at this point. It was adopted in Asia based on carrier collaboration and standards; but, in those markets NFC is now moving in heavily (like a FOB, just swipe and open the URL or App).

    If NFC takes off for Payments, then that basic User Interaction will become second nature, and NFC for launching marketing/data will be quickly adopted. NFC doesn’t demand the same User time/attention/focus that QR requires (which is a pause/scan action).

    The largest problem with QR seems to be that the vast majority of QR-based mobile experiences, well, um, suck. While QR codes are now everywhere, has anyone presented any scan numbers in over a year that show high volume scanning? No, they present “percentages” without a baseline. I’d posit that QR codes were scanned at a higher rate when they were more exclusive and special. Now, they are becoming like Junk Mail or Banner Ads.

    Because NFC has a cost to it and will be exclusively in the domain of mobile marketers (not printers), I can only hope that NFC campaigns will lead to more valuable mobile content.

    Image recognition tech is also poised to leapfrog QR (GOGGLES taking the lead and it’s already been applied to a half dozen test campaigns). I wouldn’t invest a dime in a QR company today. I think they missed the boat.

    • But it isn’t, there are 2000 ways to use the QR codes that NFC wont even come close to touch. I find it interesting how of shortsighted the vision of what you can do with them other. Also remember that the NFC tags are not free and will always have a high cost associated to them.

  6. I think all forms of mobile media have their own niche.

    You’ll see the various technologies used in different ways.

    NFC has competition- there are various communication technologies- security is more of an issue than anything else.

  7. Believe it or not this stuff has been going on in Japan for the past 10 years! And another unbelievable realty is that both NFC and QR codes have coexisted perfectly each one with a different use case. Pick up a 200 page restaurant guide for Tokyo and see if they have 200 NFC tags in it! There is a cost you know…….

  8. Gaia Dempsey

    QR, or “quick response,” codes were created by a Toyota subsidiary called Denso-Wave in 1994. Their original purpose was to keep track of automobile parts, but now they’re being used in all sorts of ways. ShareSquare and Paperlinks aren’t the only Los Angeles-based startups using QR codes who are in funding talks and have some interesting clients. There is a third: daqri, which has a bit of a different take. In addition to customizable, mobile-optimized websites, daqri incorporates the ability to create, view and publish augmented reality experiences on unique QR codes. If you’re going to invest the space and effort to put a QR code on your marketing materials, products, business cards or business entryway, then why not augment the experience? QR codes can do more than just take you to a website. With daqri, they can provide useful (or entertaining, as the case may be) contextually relevant content that can be interacted with in the real world, in 3D. Personal accounts are free, so come check it out!

  9. Dustin

    I too have a feeling that QR Codes are about to become a huge deal here in the US. Most of the QR Codes that I’ve encountered in the real world have been used for marketing, but tied in with the marketing were same awesome entertainment ideas.. like the one used at Old Navy recently with the QR Code Easter egg hunt. There is a site, QR Wild (, that lets anyone create and play qr code scavenger hunt games.. kind of like geocaching, but can be played in a more urban setting. With smartphones everywhere, I do think that QR Codes are the future!

  10. QR Codes have been around for a few years, in Japan mostly, but it’s only been the last year or so that they’ve started to become popular here in the US. They’re a neat way to draw instant attention to a website. I just wish site designers and admins would keep in mind that people are using their cel phone to access the content and design their pages with that in mind. I can’t count the number of times I’ve used a QR code from a magazine article only to be completely unable to read the web page it took me to, due to either poor formatting or unreasonably high loading times due to all the crap the designer had on the page.

  11. Thanks for the insights on QR codes and NFC.

    I would like to know where you would locate image-recognition based scanning (like Google Goggles and Moodstocks Notes) relatively to these technologies. Could they replace QR codes in the near future or could they be used in a total different way?


    • Colleen Taylor

      That’s a great point, Clément. Just this past weekend I noticed a two-page ad in the New Yorker with image-recognition based scanning for Google Goggles. Definitely something to look into.

  12. We are the first to have embedded QR technology in our mobile health technology solution. Visualize yourself in a medical emergency, either conscious or unconscious with your smart phone app that allows the first responder to use their QR code reader to scan your vital medical data onto their smart phone…. better yet, the data can then be securely transmitted to the emergency room before you arrive. Yes, QR technology will save lives and money. Data at point of care or before point of care will avoid unnecessary deaths due to medical errors and diagnostic testing.

  13. Gornin

    You make no mention of the fact that qr codes are fairly old news in japan. even the regular cell phones here have built in qr readers. they are super handy even McDonald’s uses them on their cups and wrappers to tell you nutritional info, also my own cell phone has a personal qr that i can use to distribute my contact information with ease. I would very much like to see this take off in North America.

  14. Vince

    With QR codes, there is a ton of untapped potential and a lot of growth that could be made.

    The main drawback behind these is that QR-codes can easily link to malicious websites that can either steal private data or leave malware behind. Most URLs will be shortened, making them harder to identify.

    • Mitch Thompson

      I had one of those. An idea that was stillborn, if I remember correctly.

      An advantage of the QR code today is you aren’t leashed to your desktop computer…

    • Dustin

      I think that Que Cat’s problem was that it was tied to a specific service.. though the device was capable of scanning any barcode, the saftware only linked you to their own sponsors. I got way more use out of it after people figured out how to decode the encrypted scanned data and used it as a free general purpose barcode reader.

    • Will White

      Genius! The Que Cat was a joke and so are QR Codes. Sure they’re fund for the tech guy to mess around with, but no one is ever going to use these in any volume … except maybe as a replacement for bar codes in at the grocery store.

  15. I believe the technology was invented by united parcel service 15-20 years ago to track packages. It was an upgrade to the old bar code sticker. I never would’ve imagined it being used in this way. Seems to me it is a stopgap measure and only temporary. It shouldn’t be too many more years before you can take a picture of something(without a QR code) and get everything you need to know about it via internet links.

  16. I think QR codes are here to stay. Sure, trendy will happen first, but this will quickly give way to utility. In a connected world, every product and service now comes with its own marketing packet just a scan away, with the benefit of being paperless. I suspect this will actually increase the shelf life of marketing materials; people may be less likely to delete a PDF from their smart device than toss an unread data sheet into the recycle bin when they get home.

  17. I think both QR codes and NFC have their use. Every smartphone today has a camera, so QR codes can be used for quick info about a product or place by anybody while NFC is currently only available on a tiny percentage of phones.
    In addition, anybody can print QR codes, allowing them to be ubiquitous. NFC requires special hardware smart-signs, so they’re likely to have a much slower uptake.
    Depending on the final range of the NFC systems, they may or may not be appropriate for Merchant window signs. Who wants to wave their phone at the window and look stupid? I’d rather take a picture and get the info.

    • nikhiljhingan

      Great points. I think these differentiators should make NFC suitable for transactions (required to be near) and where the codes may not be visible. QR Codes seem more useful for a wider spectrum of use cases and would probably spread faster due to easier creation & distribution.

      QR Codes are also less intrusive and require a voluntary action on part of the reader (point your camera) whereas there is a risk that some would try to push for increase of NFC range and spam.

      I do not get why Google dropped QR Codes and went to NFC for Google Places. NFC helps in ensuring that the person is really at the place but this could have been mitigated technologically.