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I 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
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?
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
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.
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.
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.