A QR code – short for Quick Response code – is essentially a square barcode that can direct a user to relevant content on their mobile device simply by scanning. The idea was simple — create a way to connect the growing digital world with online content leveraging a consumer’s smart phone.
With over 50% of American adults now owning a smart phone, something as unique and practical as a QR code should have quickly become a success. However, the technology with so many positive elements, has taken more than 10 years to gain momentum in the consumer marketplace. Has the time come to pronounce the QR code a failed digital trend, or are these little squares finally positioned to take off?
Below are some examples preventing the technology from advancing and improvements that may rescue the QR code from demise.
Ease of Use
To no one’s surprise, QR codes have proved time and time again too laborious to ever take off among mobile users. In order for the QR code to work, people first need to have a QR scanner app already downloaded. Next, they must be willing to stop what they are doing, unlock their phones and open the app to finally scan the QR code. And this is assuming the consumer is educated on how to use these codes. Otherwise the digital mark will also need to include instructions on how and where to download the proper app to read the icon before they are even able to discover where the QR code is directing them to or what its purpose is. All of this can be overwhelming and time consuming to an audience.
Poor User Experience
In the rush to capitalize on this digital trend, many marketing efforts were too inconsistent in creating mobile-optimized and rewarding landing pages or experiences for these codes, creating an unsatisfying user experience.
Many codes only take users to non-mobile optimized sites, or worse, to a site where the connection to the original call-to-action is lost. Yet, the destination is only half of the issue with developing a rewarding and engaging user experience with QR codes.
The other half is the implementation of the QR codes. QR codes located on moving objects like the outside of buses or trains, TV commercials, or even in emails can make the code unwieldy and difficult to use. Something a simple URL could achieve just as easy if not easier. All of this, as well as the necessary QR reader application requiring precious space on mobile devices hinder the use of QR codes.
- SMS short codes — every mobile phone has functionality that allows users to text. Short codes allow a user to text a simple keyword to a five-digit number and receive back information or a link to an online experience.
- Near-field communications (NFC) — Near-field communications (NFC) is still developing as a viable QR code alternative, but it has the potential to overtake preceding technologies and become the main driver of the mobile-physical integrated experience. Examples include the Google Wallet and Apple Pay.
- Augmented reality — While some companies have tied augmented reality experiences to QR codes, this is no longer necessary. Augmented reality allows for a much richer interactive user experience that can excite users to continue interaction.
To the Rescue
- Easier Use - With the launch of IOS7, the Apple Passbook app now comes with a QR code reader pre-loaded. Consumers now have one step less in reading a QR code. Also, Android phone’s built-in Google Search widget can decode QR codes as well.
- Functional Use - While many of the experiences behind QR codes are still a disappointment, there are industries (particularly in industrial and real estate businesses) where having a QR code provides connectivity to deep linked product specifications, etc. Even realtors are using QR codes on property signs, for quick access to the property information.
- Innovative & Improved User Experience - Finally, in The Optical Society’s (OSA) new high-impact journal “Optica,” new research explains how QR codes are being used to create personal 3-D entertainment, product visualizations for manufacturing and marketing, and secure 3-D data storage and transmission by simply scanning a series of QR codes. Which shows that perhaps QR codes are better suited as supplementary, devices not marketing material.
Any technology will eventually evolve or be replaced. The timeline for the QR code however, may be getting shorter. Let us know what you think below in the comments.
 PEW Research — June 5th, 2013 — http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/06/05/smartphone-ownership-2013/