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Google makes a QR code turnaround with new M&A deal

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When Google quietly discontinued support for QR codes in its Places product earlier this year, many saw it as an early death knell for QR codes, which are barcodes that lead to URLs or information when scanned. But Google’s (s goog) acquisition Monday of Mountain View, Calif.-based startup Punchd shows the search giant may not be completely abandoning QR technology just yet.

Punchd works like this: Each time a customer buys a product that’s part of a loyalty program (i.e. buy five cups of coffee, get one free) the participating store lets the customer scan a QR code they keep behind the counter. The Punchd app keeps track of how many times the QR code has been scanned, and alerts the user when they are eligible to receive their loyalty reward. Although Google put its weight behind near-field communications (NFC) technology with the launch of Google Wallet, the Punchd buy may serve as validation that the two technologies do not have to be rivals.

In a way, Punchd has come full-circle by selling to Google. According to the deal announcement, co-founders Reed Morse and Grantland Chew made Punchd’s first prototype in an Android operating system development class at Cal Poly University. The company was officially founded in 2010 and went on to be funded by 500 Startups this past spring.

To be sure, the quick turnaround from prototype to sale could signify that the Punchd buy is partly a talent acquisition. According to Punchd’s website, the company has a six-person team, five of whom hold either computer science or engineering degrees. But Google has shown a keen interest in the local commerce space, as evidenced by the recent launch and heavy promotion of its Groupon clone, Google Offers. It will be interesting to observe how Punchd’s QR-based product, and its team, will evolve within Google post-deal.

Image courtesy of Punchd

10 Responses to “Google makes a QR code turnaround with new M&A deal”

  1. From our perspective we feel the final result will not be ‘QR or NFC’ but ‘QR and NFC’.

    We have years of real-world experience with venues using our smartphone apps to scan 1D/2D barcodes for ticket validation. The venues and ticket providers we work with believe it will be several years before the majority of their consumers show up with NFC tickets (or NFC coupons, vouchers, etc.).

    Although we are adding NFC reading (and NFC token delivery) to our app, it’s not to replace QR codes and other types of tracking & validation; instead, it’s to complement them. Clearly we need to support both, not just for ticketing but for many other types of online and offline transactions as well.

  2. First Google ‘abandons’ QR Codes
    Then QR Codes are ‘Dead’
    Now QR Codes are making a turn-around via Google again!?
    I wish the tech news could decide on the right story!

    QR Codes work and very well, in the right context. We work mainly with book publishers and we’ve seen fantastic results. Two specific examples to speak of: a code we have on a book that is now about 2 years old still gets on avg 300 new and unique scans a month, every month. This is 2 years after the book first came out and is 300 new people a month being added to the publishers direct CRM database.

    The other is a recent DVD insert we’ve done aimed at 13-18 year olds that is seeing about 800 new scans a week at the moment, and remember, as I mentioned, this is on a DVD, ‘early adopters’ don’t watch DVD’s, they stream on the web.

    We have a lot more case studies exactly like this that prove that QR Codes work when used int he right way. If you’re interested in finding out more you can email me antony (at) link (dot) me and we’ll share some more hard numbers with you.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with this article. I have been saying all along that QR, NFC, and even AR will all co exist. This isn’t VHS vs beta. I like the angle here. I am doing something with QR codes too at

  4. Also, please edit my last post, should be Great link. The other error is, why when it should say way. Linkedin normally allows edits for 15 minutes.

  5. Get link, to bad it doesn’t work on iPhone. And what a great why to back up the line even further while we wait for the customer to find his app, open it and finally scan the code. Solution, scan the code which also let’s me pay for it and get the loyality, all in one scan. Don’t make customers find a reason to dislike the technology.

  6. They’ll apply the technology/platform to an NFC trigger, not QR.

    QR is an old technology that is not beloved by any consumers. Honestly, can you point to any successful campaigns in nearly a year, despite the influx of smartphones and QR codes being everywhere?

    Punchd’s value is in what’s under the hood, behind the trigger. The trigger of QR or NFC is insignificant to it’s value. It may use a hybrid QR/NFC solution but GOOG are all-in for NFC so going NFC only is quite likely.

  7. Whoa there partner. Just because Google turned away from QR codes doesn’t mean they were dead. Wow. That’s a bold statement. QR codes represent a significant evolution of the standard barcode by offering an additional dimension which greatly enhances the data capacity of the barcode. QR Codes will eventually become the dominant method for product representation. The technology to scan a barcode and pull up a web-resource is covered under separate patents.

  8. Nikita

    While I don’t think abandoning QR was the right move by Google, but I doubt that an impl. detail of the punchd offering is an indication of Google’s POV on the issue going forward. I suspect tweaking this service (likely with a tiny customer base) to use NFC instead of QR isn’t that big of a task.