QR codes are silly

April 19th, 2011

So QR codes are being heralded as the way for the print medium to reroute readers to more interactive and compelling Internet content. Questions:

  1. When has any medium ever successfully rerouted audience immediately to another medium? Think TV to radio, Internet to TV, movies to books, etc. It doesn’t happen. If your audience is currently engaged in a medium, it takes a large, large promise of payoff to entice an audience member to switch to another medium; and since by definition, the audience doesn’t know what lies on the other side of that QR code, it’s an unlikely mode switch at best. Once marketers start abusing QR codes, it will only get harder to entice people to give QR codes a shot.
  2. As of Apr. 2011, why doesn’t any smartphone OS ship with a QR reader? Too geeky, perhaps? Too hard to explain to Mom and Dad? Any technology that is physically ugly tends to be marginalized. And QR codes are seriously ugly.
  3. The most important physical object that might genuinely benefit from a QR code already has a scannable code on it: a UPC code. This code already works well as a scannable artifact in all kinds of existing apps today without any additional manufacturer effort. Why would a manufacturer put a QR code on as well?

QR codes are a technology looking for a purpose. They are the print industry equivalent of RSS feeds; appealing to a small number of geeks, but not useful (or explainable) enough to gain acceptance in a mass market. As the very astute Sebastiaan de With has said, QR Codes are a bad solution to make our world more understandable to devices. We should make our devices smarter, not make reality dumber.

7 Responses to “QR codes are silly”

  1. I've tried using QRs for a couple of purposes and found them to be pretty unreliable. That might just have to do with the software I'm using, I suppose.

    Putting the QR in context will do a lot, I think. RIght now, they're being used as a secret thing — "Don't you want to know what's in this box?" — but that's short-lived and useless. The fact that you can put any url in there at all is potentially very interesting to me, though. Put it on a document to download a PDF of the document. Put it in a book to go to a discussion forum about the topic. Put on a business card to show your portfolio.

  2. Jeff Hobbs says:

    Google's "Googles" in the iPhone app seems to be the best software implementation I've seen so far. It's still pretty clunky and relies on a network connection to display the resultant material, which makes it only as effective as the cell-phone coverage in that area.

    I think the thing that I don't like most about it is the one-way "black box" ness of the experience — there's no way to know what you'll get out of it. I scanned one in a food magazine and got a bunch of mp3s that I couldn't download on my phone. HEY GREAT.

    It will be supplanted by the much more useful Near Field Communications chip.

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