Are QR Codes Just A Fad? [Opinion]

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qr codesI remember the first time I encountered a QR code. I didn’t have a smartphone yet, so my reaction was “Hey, what’s this weird block of pixels?” It was only when I purchased my first Android phone that I began to take real note of them. I scanned a few during the first month I had the phone. And then I more or less quit.

It’s certainly difficult to not run into one of these codes today – but is that because they’re here to stay, or because they’re a fad? I think the answer is the latter, and here’s why.

QR Codes Are Inconvenient

qr codes

The first time I scanned a QR code with my phone, I thought it was pretty nifty. The second time, I thought it was okay. The third time, I started to become a bit annoyed.

QR codes were originally put into use by the automotive industry as a way to scan parts. Since the code works in two dimensions (rather than one, like a bar code) far more information can be stored. It’s only popular now because smartphones have decent cameras, but they still pale in comparison to the scanners typically used to read these codes.

As a result, scanning a QR code with a camera isn’t particularly fast.  It requires that you open a QR code app and direct your camera at the code. Then you need to wait for the code to be read. If lighting conditions are good, it doesn’t take long. If they’re not, it might take a few moments or might not work at all. Which begs the question – is it really that convenient? Or is code scanning one of those things we do just because we couldn’t do it before?

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Complaining about the time it takes to scan a QR code may seem silly. But speed and ease of use separates standards that survive from those that don’t – at least in the consumer market.

QR Codes Aren’t Secure

what are qr codes

When you scan a QR code, you probably assume it will send you to a legitimate site. I did the same when I first started using them. It was only a few months later, when reading an article about new security threats, that I realized there’s nothing guaranteeing a QR code is secure. These codes can direct you to malicious websites, malicious apps, and other such perils.

Links also can direct you to the same, of course. But you usually have a vague idea of where a link is going to send you before you click on it, and if you don’t, you can check it out by expanding the link or looking the site up on Google. With a QR code, you can’t even be certain of what type of content the code is going to send your way – and it sends the content your way automatically once the code is scanned.

So far, these security issues are not generally a problem because QR codes are not generally used to spread malware. They’re harder to spread than a simple link or infected app and therefore not used as frequently. Even so, if QR code use were to persist the security issue would have to be addressed.

QR Codes Are Going Obsolete

And here we have the main reason QR codes are a fad.

The QR code, as I think I’ve already explained, isn’t that interesting. There’s nothing about it from a technical standpoint that’s ground-breaking. It can hold a fair shake of data, but it can be awkward to read (with a camera, at least) and has security problems. And in terms of physical size on a webpage or a piece of paper, a QR code is rather large compared to a text link.

As such, it’s ripe for replacement. That replacement is near field communication, or NFC.

qr codes

NFC allows for extremely short-range transfer of data between devices, and it’s real sci-fi stuff. Right now it’s primarily being used in wireless electronic payment systems (like Google Wallet) but the implications are massive. Instead of picking up a daily or weekly ad when you enter a store, you could simply have that data transferred to your phone by placing it on a table or tapping it against a kiosk.

The key feature here is convenience. All you would need to do to read data via NFC is tap your phone against a tag (the shorthand for a NFC chip in an object). This is much quicker than reading a QR code, and this is assuming the current NFC standards, which restrict communications to a distance of a few millimeters. It’s not hard to imagine a future where wireless communication renders all forms of physical data transfer nearly obsolete.

Conclusion

QR codes entered the consumer market because camera technology on phones reached a point where it was possible to read them and because there weren’t many other means of transferring data between objects and people.

Now that NFC is starting to gain traction, QR codes will start to seem a bit old-fashioned. As always, the transition isn’t going to take place overnight. But it will happen. It’s only a matter of time.

What do you think?  Are you a QR Code fan who thinks that the codes are going nowhere soon?  Or are you against them and see them rapidly disappearing from everyday use?  Let us know your viewpoint in the comments.

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Comments (31)
  • website design firm

    Qr, Code is essential for VISA. VISA card are easily implemented and used to buying thing and it is available in mobile as well. so 

  • JerryP

    As an advertising technology (full page magazine ads for example) it will be pushed for quite a while as the cost as a part of a full page ad is virtually 0.  The return on investment, however small the percentage of use, is there and highly positive (think junk mail/spam as an equivalent).  Expect it to be linked in more tightly with social media.  You will be able to “Like” a paper ad, “check in” at a poster at a bus stop.  (OK, it probably is already being used this way, I am just too lazy/anti-social to use QR codes or social networking, so I’m talking about marketing and human behavior points of view).  Print advertising outside of major companies with full page ads, will be questionable as the cost of using them in becomes prohibitive in a cost for space ratio, so that will be hit or miss. 

    As a substitute for typing in a web address (whether short or long) on your smart phone, it is here to stay.  Anywhere you see a website address PRINTED, expect to see the QR eventually sitting right beside it:  flyers you see stapled to telephone poles, plastered in shop windows or on bulletin boards, party postcard ads, etc.  Paper is still cheap, and a one inch square on that piece of paper is free.  And expect them more where you don’t now see websites, because long website names http://www.whatever.com/asdf/asdf/sadf….. that currently make printing them irrelevant (and trying to keep them short difficult), become as simple as http://www.abcd.com.  It will let those with lower technical knowledge have simple printed links to their home made sites.
     
    And as already mentioned, the boring (i.e. practical) uses as links to shipping codes, real estate information, etc. will make their regular use them more prevalent as more people have internet access in the palm of their hand.  Anywhere a link between PRINTED media and the internet is useful, expect to start seeing it.

    The security concerns will never enter the average person’s mind.  If it does, they will expect (and likely get) a software fix (like filtering software) to keep them “safe”. 

    NFC is completely unrelated.  QR is for PRINTED media.  NFC requires a specific separate physical technology (much like RFID), a corresponding infrastructure that is not currently there, and has a correspondingly high price tag. QR needs paper and a printer and software.  And software is only going to make it easier and easier for anyone to make and incorporate QRs into anything they print.  I wouldn’t be surprised if mass photograph developers (like Walgreens) didn’t start printing QR codes on the backs of photos to reprint or purchase.

    And as much as the average reader of MUO may think paper is dead, the average non-MUO reader still uses paper, all day, every day.

    • M.S. Smith

      Of course QR Codes and NFC are unrelated technology, at least on a technical level. But they’re things that in theory could do very similar tasks. In the same way that a pen and a keyboard are unrelated technology, but they achieve similar ends. 

      I understand that QR is cheap. But it also doesn’t seem very effective. I suppose some effectiveness is better than none, but the idea of a future where we see electronic tags everywhere seems like something that would make QR codes useless as a means of communication outside of a warehouse environment. And even there…

      The price of the hardware, and its physical size, will come down as it is implemented, of course.

      Maybe I have my head in the clouds. But nothing I’ve seen suggest that QR codes are that popular now (I’d be happy to look at studies that say different) and their inherit limitations lead me to believe they won’t advance much in the future. Wireless technologies – like NFC or something similar not yet on the table – seem to me like they will make the QR code obsolete within the next five years.

    • JerryP

      You can write a letter with a pen or keyboard.  Pens are given away at many businesses, paper is a few pennies a page.  Keyboards cost quite a bit more, along with the computer, a printer or internet access if you want to send that letter electronically.  And the difference is precisely my point.

      From a technical perspective, or cost for a single unit, $0.01 or $5.00 doesn’t really matter and NFC is great.  But in mass production, assuming even a $0.01 cost to produce (assuming you could overcome any power requirements) and $0.01 cost per unit to adhere it to the box, NFC will still lose out to the $0.00 cost alternative.

      In a warehouse, NFC would lend itself to high cost, low volume goods, QR to the other end.

      I guess I don’t really see how NFC is any more effective than QR in most situations.  As the example in the article:  Walk into a store, and instead of setting your smartphone on a table with NFC embedded, you take a picture of the QR code printed on the table. 

      And really, it is just a weblink on paper.  NFC is pretty much the same, just a different medium and a higher cost to hijack.  Unless I misunderstand something fundamental about NFC, it either does require some interaction beyond mere proximity (you wouldn’t want to get charged for things simply by standing too close), or it requires user intervention to do anything more than what QR does..  A future smartphone would have the ability to do either with nominal difference to the consumer.

      It may well be the next version of Spam.  Virtually no cost, with rewards based on sheer volume.  There is always someone who will follow it.

      Businesses give away pens as advertising.  I haven’t heard of anyone giving away computers.

  • James Bruce

    I think it’s interesting to mention there’s actually a huge variety of what we might think of as “QR codes” out there, this page lists a lot of them:

    http://www.adams1.com/stack.html

    Fascinating stuff. 

  • Rockinrobinmorris

    QR is here to stay for awhile.  My scan app works so fast, and gives me the option to accept the info about to come my way. Can’t imagine having to type URL’s etc on my Android…so slow. And I can scan a real estate QR parked outside a home while I sit in my vehicle. So many folks in the regular, non-geek world don’t know what they are or how useful they can be that it leads me to think, we haven’t even gotten to the “fad” phase.

  • otomegane

    QR codes are everywhere in Japan… and almost all of their feature phone has NFC since yr2000. I don’t see QR is a fad. I don’t have to be connected to any database to decrypt, compared to normal barcode… and i don’t need special equipment to produce it, just a printer.

    • James Bruce

      QR codes are in decline in Japan, helped by the fact that iPhone doesn’t come with a QR code reader by default, where as your typical docomo “smart” phone of the past did. NFC will stay around though, because it’s in widespread use for payments all over the place. The fact that I could go buy a beer by waving my phone around was a big winner for why Japan is the best place on earth to live!

      But like I keep saying, QR codes are unrelated to NFC, so lets not confuse the two. 

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.