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Why QR codes are the blinking VCR clock of the 21st century

There has always been a polarization among the users of the internet of things: those that understand and can manage the internet of things, and those who cannot. This phenomenon can in part be defined by those among us that can scan a QR Code and those of us who have tried and failed.

The modern-day equivalent of a blinking clock on a VCR, QR codes elude the majority of us. Just as we all recognized what the clock was for on a VCR, we all have the notion that a QR code contains information, a link perhaps, that can be used on the internet to gain access to even more information. But knowing what it is used for does not mean you know how to use it. How to scan it.

QR Codes are Dead, long Live QR Codes

But wait, aren’t QR codes dead? There are still those that feel that if used right, QR codes can be an effective means of communication. Back in 2011 comScore’s MobiLens service published a report showing that 1 in 3 individuals that scanned QR codes had a household income greater than $100,000. Looking to attract such a demographic, Taco Bell ran a successful campaign on ESPN where more than 225,000 QR codes were scannedSnapChat has recently invested close to $51 million in QR code technology, according to Business Insider, in an effort to help increase those that use their service. Even music identification service Shazam is looking a using QR codes to increase the universe of what is Shazamable.

The problem with QR codes is not that they don’t work. They are very identifiable and just about everyone knows that you need to scan them. More and more we will see how QR codes can be used to do more than just provide a link to a web site as part of an advertising campaign. The problem that remains is that not everyone knows how to get them to work: how to scan or even create them. And that is just where the following apps can help:

Traditional Uses of QR Codes

RedLaser – Focused more on being a shopping assistant, RedLaser (Free, iPhone) is an app that will take a scanned QR code and search an online database to see what the QR code could possibly mean. Utilizing a collection of millions of products, RedLaser specializes in helping you compare prices of the products you are looking for, search for coupons leading you to the best deals online, and often times providing access to comments are reviews related to the product. It will even help you create shopping lists from your scan history that you can easily share with others.

QR Reader – With the ability to actually create a wide variety of different QR Codes directly on the device, QR Reader (Free, iPhone) is a full featured QR code app. More of a utility knife when it comes to creating and scanning QR codes, QR Reader also has the ability to scan words you see in the camera in addition to QR codes. Simply point the scanner at the word you are interested, swipe your finger across the word and it will convert the image of the word to text. It can also scan QR codes from images you have stored in your camera roll. The free version of the app is ad-based, but you can remove the ads through a $0.99 in-app purpose.

Scan – With more of an online business focused presence, Scan ($1.99, Universal) helps you track the usage of all of the QR codes you create.  One of the best new features that it has to offer is its ability to create a QR code for your local Wi-Fi network. Simply go to the web site, review the list of QR codes that are best for you, and choose the Wi-Fi option. You can then create a QR code that makes it easier to share your public WiFi settings with family and friends that come over to visit. It also does a decent job of scanning and keeping a history of the QR codes you do scan.  In fact, it’s simplified interface makes scanning and using QR codes about as easy as it can possibly be.

Unique Uses of QR Codes

Coke Freestyle Flavors – You may have noticed that your choice in beverage flavors at your favorite fast food restaurant has increased dramatically. The Coca-Cola company has been rolling out a new era in soda fountains. If you look a little closer, you will see that many of Coca-Cola’s new FreeStyle soda machines also have a little QR code on them (bottom right corner of the machine if it is there). Using their Coca-Cola Freestyle (Free, iPhone) app, you can customize your drink options even further by creating your own mix of flavors. You can add up to three different flavors and choose the proportions to create your own unique flavor; for example, ten percent Sprite, twenty percent Fanta zero raspberry, and seventy percent Hi-C orange (don’t judge me).

Hive Bitcoin Wallet – Bitcoin is a person to person way to exchange money at a very low cost. If you use bitcoin to exchange money, you will have what is referred to as a Bitcoin wallet. QR codes have been one of the primary means of identifying and sharing the identity of your Bitcoin wallet. Hive (Free, Universal) is a Bitcoin wallet app that uses QR codes to share your wallet identity with others. You display your wallet’s QR code on one screen, and the camera on your friend’s phone can bet used to scan it. No need to write an IOU anymore.

Snapchat Snaptags – While it has the spirit of the original QR codes, Snapchat’s (Free, iPhone) new Snaptags feature allows you to quickly add family, friends and colleagues to your contact list with ease. It has a unique style to the way that the code is created looking more like a generic avatar than something you would see on the assembly like in an automobile factory.  You can even post your Snaptag online and share your contact information.  Print it out on your business card or flyer when you are going to a trade show or event to quickly grow your contact list.

16 Responses to “Why QR codes are the blinking VCR clock of the 21st century”

  1. FergalWalker

    (Disclosure: I’m the CEO of Quikkly, a marketing-centric upgrade to QR.

    I feel a bit sorry for the QR code. It was invented in 1994 in a world without internet, without smartphones, without apps. It was designed specifically to improve supply-chain management as a replacement for older bar codes. I’m not a logistics expert but I can only assume that it does a good job of it and is fit for purpose.

    What we collectively have done in the interim is started using QR in situations it wasn’t designed for, in particular marketing. Let’s face it: no marketer worth their salt would have designed a QR code as a solution to bridging the offline and online representations of a product or brand. It’s ugly and more importantly often unclear what will happen.

    The world has moved on. We have app-centric smartphones. We have cloud-based dynamic intelligence. To think that we would continue with a unclear, static, dumb code which mainly does one action (browsing) in this world is crazy. To leverage the great foundations of internet, mobile and marketing, we need a different solution. One which is app-centric, controllable via the cloud and most important of all: clear to consumers. That’s why we invented Quikkly. There are lots of solutions in this space and hopefully we can contribute too.

  2. This topic keeps coming up and as far as I can see, QR codes are still very relevant. How to use them in a new creative way is the key to their success, and because of bad decisions by marketing campaigns that really don’t know how to get the best of them, QR codes get this bad reputation. For instance, the city of Antwerp has adopted QR codes for their entire public transportation system. In other words, it became a Smart City. Just imagine the possibilities of this idea being expanded upon more and more cities. It would definitely help in day to day work travels. And this was possible via QR codes. Besides, in relationship to other technologies of the sort, such as NFC and AR, they are cost effective and can be easily generated and customized.

  3. QR Codes would get more use if you could just point your phone’s camera at them and they would read. Having to fire up an app before you can read them is just one step too far for 99% of people. It would also be nice if your phone would tell you where the case leads before going there as well.

    • Taking the chance to do some market research. If you were reading an article in print and wanted to share it and you were given the option of a code to scan or having to enter a URL and find the article which option would you use. Assuming you already had an app on your phone.

  4. I am from a startup call Shomi, that is developing a font based alternative to the QR code. Dynamic and will fit into a link of text or any other small space.
    Some great comments here around QR codes and good to see that they are not dead.
    This might not be the best forum to ask this but I would be very interested in getting some feedback from people that actually use QR codes on what we are trying to build.
    You can also check out the Shomi product video here:


  5. sandfarmer

    I have been for a long time and am still using QRC’s for all my clients and they are working beautifully. One recently remodeled and we waited to put the QRC’s back up and there was a noticeable drop in commerce and increase in the questions that the QRC’s answered being asked of the employees which was completely unnecessary, they have other things to do.

    And the best reader is ScanLife, it reads anything BarCode and has extraneous features more so than a plain QRCR, that was not mentioned anywhere. The right scan app and a little client education goes a long long way. It just depends on your IoT and business savvy.

    Long live QRC’s. Their making my life so much easier and clients very happy.

  6. Jess Bahr

    I despised QR codes until I started using 2 Factor Authentication. It definitely has a purposes.

    Another use case is for museums where each station can have a QR code that pulls up information specific to that exhibit, instead of having that weird headphone thing where you have to put in the number.

  7. Nicholas Paredes

    QR Code? = Yes ≠ No –> QR Code? ≠ Yes == No…

    Your mileage may vary, but scanning information has potential uses. I will scan a Starbucks app to pay. I will scan a prescription. I will scan a product to save money, maybe. I will not repetitively scan things for offers. And, the general market proves this to be true.

    I am redesigning a mobile product where product management thought that a QR code would be a good idea. Nobody uses the service. My job is to motivate interaction which implies removing sticking points such as scanning and replace it with intelligence. Location based services including beacons are a much better option.

  8. Oded Israeli

    Alibaba Group also recently invested in Visualead, the O2O startup that developed Visual QR Codes technology.
    Visual QR Codes let businesses combine any image or logo with a regular QR Code, which can be read by any QR Code scanner. When QR Codes are less ugly and their meaning is clear to human beings (and not just to machines), they are more effective and get many more scans.

  9. Alex Stevens

    There’s also the use of QR codes in event/experiential marketing (which I work in) – we use it in reverse from the way that’s listed here, in that we provide each customer a unique QR code and then scan it ourselves. Just this week at the Super Bowl we used it at Bud Light’s event, and it was also used at the Verizon pavilion.

    QR is a very easy code to scan in a variety of formats (on mobile, printed, etc.) and has the advantage of being able to have a fair amount of data encoded within the code itself without requiring a lookup.

    Even with that, we keep expecting it to die as well, and it just doesn’t. :)

  10. Tom Limongello

    I think the reason that QR codes never took off is quite simple. The original Android OS had QR scanning right in the camera, but Google launched Android without that feature, and instead only introduced it later in their own, redundant Google search app. Similarly, Apple only in iOS8 brought the QR scanner into the passbook app instead of into the iOS camera app, and if that QR code doesn’t include a passbook pass, it won’t work. It’s a very simple fix for both Apple and Android, but I’m guessing their interest in controlling how the internet of things is searched for and accessed is holding back the understanding in the US.

    Maybe because character input is harder in Asia, WeChat has popularized it for social faster than we have here, but I think until the camera natively scans QR codes we won’t see the real uptake happen, even though the available technology has been hobbled for at least 8 years on both iOS and Android.

  11. Reblogged this on ~ and commented:
    Good read on QR Codes and their unique uses. I think QR codes are a fascinating case study in how individuals are starting to carry data to meet their needs and wants. For example, having your own secret formula QR code to use at a Coca Cola freestyle machine: “You may have noticed that your choice in beverage flavors at your favorite fast food restaurant has increased dramatically. The Coca-Cola company has been rolling out a new era in soda fountains. If you look a little closer, you will see that many of Coca-Cola’s new FreeStyle soda machines also have a little QR code on them (bottom right corner of the machine if it is there). Using their Coca-Cola Freestyle (Free, iPhone) app, you can customize your drink options even further by creating your own mix of flavors. You can add up to three different flavors and choose the proportions to create your own unique flavor; for example, ten percent Sprite, twenty percent Fanta zero raspberry, and seventy percent Hi-C orange (don’t judge me).”