The State Of QR Codes And What To Expect In 2009

Though QR (Quick Response) barcodes haven’t been as prolific in 2008 as maybe some of us had hoped, 2009 looks to be a whole different story.  I’ve been following the technology since its inception, and though I knew it would be hard to catch on in the US due the state of our mobile technology compared to elsewhere, I still thought we’d be further along then we currently are.  With that being said, 2008 still brought some large scale innovations with QR as well as some large-scale mobile campaigns that were centered around using QR.

The basic function of a QR code has proved perfect as a tool in mobile marketing.  By using a special code-reader or the camera of your mobile device to read the contents of a specific barcode, it bypasses the need to input a long URL into your mobile browser.  The problem being, until recently, a consumer would have to find and download a special mobile application, or have a mobile device with a non-VGA camera, and so.  In other words, it was to much of a hassle for normal users to understand and use effectively.

Now, with the advent of streamlined mobile-application delivery such as Apple’s App Store, Blackberry and Android versions, along with the near phase-out of VGA camera phones, the whole process is becoming easier to understand and operate.  Still, in countries like the US and Australia, along with Europe, QR codes are virtually non-existent. That’s not to say the technology hasn’t been used in some large-scale mobile campaigns though.

As Adena reported on last month, Pepsi introduced one of the first large-scale QR-based mobile campaigns to date in Europe, with over 400 million QR barcodes being distributed on Pepsi cans.  Likewise, Micheal reported on one of Australia’s first large-scale QR deployments in a campaign to help promote the new James Bond movie by way of a “treasure hunt” of sorts.  The campaign attracted over 10,000 users without any help from the mainstream media.  If that doesn’t show potential than I don’t know what would.

Beyond the obvious uses in mobile marketing, 2008 brought to light many others.  CitySearch and Antenna Audio began a program last spring in San Francisco in which they placed QR codes on historical landmarks and restaurants.  The QR codes can then be linked to a public review site, a wiki, or a forum, and anyone can lend a hand in chronicling a certain site’s history.

A company called EventBrite tested a new “green ticketing” service along with a barcode-based attendee registration system that will ultimately allow event organizers to “check-in” attendees on-site using a basic webcam.  They’ve even created “barcode check-in scanning” as well to coincide with their QR-based ticketing services.

Interestingly enough, we also saw QR codes used for personal expression as well in 2008.  QR codes made for clothing, scarfs and other accessories with personal QR-based messages embedded in them, and even ones for speed dating and fundraising.  There’s no question that the future of QR looks bright, whether or not us in the US will be able to participate in the near future.

My only concern is whether or not QR will prevail over other “digital hyperlink” technologies such as mobile image recognition, etc.  2008 was a good year for QR, but was also a good year for a variety of image recognition applications by way of the iPhone, Android devices and more.  What can be accomplished with a QR code, can be accomplished with image recognition as well, and in many cases much more.  A user can take a photo of a CD or device of some sort, and use an image recognition app such as Amazon’s iPhone app, to hyperlink to the associated mobile content.  To me, this technology seems more promising than QR codes, but maybe I’m wrong.