The Return of the QR Codes

A short piece about why QR codes might well be one of the next big things. No, you didn’t misread.

It’s no secret: QR codes are having a hard time. In fact, all the cases of super embarrassing wrong usage have led people to instantly react to QR codes with mockery, spite and even indignation. Sites like “Pictures of People Scanning QR-codes” may be funny little amusements but are also proof that the requiem is in full play: QR codes are dead.
Marketing execs and their “creatives” discovering QR codes and misusing them for useless sales shenanigans was the worst thing that could have happened to QR codes and to some extent also to innovation: QR codes possibly will lead one of the key roles in future application of the internet of things. Now they have to take a detour until people learn to appreciate them.

QR codes are a cheap way to attach a digital identity to a physical product and can carry a lot more diverse information than just links the guys from marketing sent over. There are more sophisticated ways to do what QR codes do but they all require some form of hardware like NFC tags or Small processors and sensors. QR Codes can be printed on products for no extra cost and this is an advantage not to be underestimated.

The Secret Ingredient

So why should QR codes on products work better than in newspapers and on billboards? There’s a really simple answer to this and the magic happens by lowering the bar and taking obstacles out of the way: QR codes work if the user does not have to handle the code reader. Swiss railways for example have been using QR codes for a few years now, reaching a remarkable level of acceptance but it is the ticket inspector that holds the code reader. The customer just has to show his ticket.

qr_on_mobile
The QR code on the left can be shown as a ticket on swiss trains.
The code on the right would get you to a website. ¬†Ehrm. yes. I am on a mobile. Pointing my camera at the QR code is… sort of difficult.
The fact that this is on a website advertising for a book for mobile prototyping made me weep.

Another example of the usage of the reader not in the hands of the user is with the proof of concept for a mobile payment system a few happy coders at Liip recently did. It was named WALLY and it’s a mobile payment system based on qr codes.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/60913864 w=500&h=281]
Wally – Mobile Payment Proof of Concept

Zero code reading hassle for the user, no code reader app download, no internet connection needed.

The Dawn of the Age of Internet of Things

Very soon we might be living in a world where objects are connected to the web and have a digital identity we can access. Just imagine the following scenario: You do your weekend shopping and fill your fridge with a lot of stuff. Each item has a code that can be scanned by the fridge when entering and leaving it. The code would not only store general product info but also individual information like the “best before:” dates. So you would always know what you have in your fridge that has to be eaten next and this not by opening the door but looking at a profile of your fridge on its website. So the next time you go shopping you’d know what you’d not have to get. You can also let your fridge propose recipes that make best use of the things in your fridge and because it can talk to the closet it can tell you for each recipe if you’ll have to do some additional shopping or not. This sounds like a totally unrealistic scenario. Never the less the incentives are here: We live in a society that throws away a lot of food. If this helps diminish food waste the scenario should become reality rather sooner than later.

Welcome to the future, welcome to the rebirth of QR codes.

2 thoughts on “The Return of the QR Codes”

  1. Interesting thoughts!

    Indeed QR-Codes are often used in the wrong place. E.g. on billboards next to highways. Check out this Video for more bad use-cases: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2rVYvylvZc

    Great that you brought up the fridge-use-case.
    The funny thing is that most of the products already have something like a QR code on them – the barcode. (Which is not a unique identifier for each product-item, but for each type of product). But I don’t see people scanning each product before putting it into their fridge and taking it out again. It’s just not convenient (and convenience is king).

    The intelligent fridge is the most prominent internet-of-things use-case since about 20 years. See also this interesting article (German): http://neuerdings.com/2013/01/18/gadget-klassiker-internet-kuehlschrank/
    It links to this comic which is very neat: http://allthingsd.com/20120111/smart-fridge-that-smarts-comic/

  2. Ha! Awesome, thanks a lot Andreas!
    One little sidenote: Is is a neat coincidence that the article on the intelligent fridge as well as the comic strip reference to science fiction. In the Article there is a portrait of the T9000 by Skynet… ehrm I mean Samsung and the comic is just Space Odyssey ad absurdum. Nice!

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