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Technology Trends: QR Codes Making A Comeback
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Technology Trends: QR Codes Making A Comeback - Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: QR Codes Making A Comeback

Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: QR Codes Making A Comeback

Once upon a time, QR codes (originally quick response codes) seemed to be full of promise and potential, a fast and (kind of) convenient way to get information from something static and tiny, such as a poster in a window or a sticker on a product, onto something mobile and dynamic, like a smartphone. It seemed everyone was coming up with cool places to put the codes.

Square, pixelly-looking arrangements of black dots on a white background, QR codes are effectively two-dimensional versions of UPC codes, the barcodes identifying every packaged product in stores. Where a barcode scanner reads info in one direction only (left to right or right to left), the QR code conceivably has the potential for far more data, reading top to bottom and left to right.

The problem in the early years was accessibility. To unlock whatever secret a QR code had, a person had to open a smartphone app and point it at the code, using the phone’s resident camera functionality.

It might have been worth the hassle, except it wasn’t. In exploring the potential for this new tech, marketers capitalized on the novelty but didn’t offer enough payoff. Nearly always, the code simply pointed a web browser to a website, often the promotional section of a website specifically relevant to whatever the user scanned the code from, such as contest entry forms.

Once the neat-o factor wore off, everyone just ignored the codes. Apps were deleted from phones even while codes continued to show up for a long time.

Strangely, however, QR codes are making a comeback for two reasons. First, smartphones are coming with QR-reading functionality built into the camera apps: open the camera app, point it at a code, and the phone asks if you’d like to go to the website or open the app prompted by the code. iPhones came with this function beginning with iOS 11 in late 2017, while some Android devices recently followed suit.

Second, some creative techs finally found super-useful ways to apply the QR concept, if not the QR codes themselves, building similar proprietary codes into mobile app functionality. Like nearly all social media platforms, Snapchat’s usefulness is built on users following each other, adding new friends by granting access to the phone’s contacts list or their Facebook friends list, or typing in the user names of accounts they wish to follow. It’s not that difficult, but it can be a pain, especially when a friend’s user name is HotInHouston23973.

Shortly after it exploded in popularity with young people, Snapchat added SnapCodes (or SnapTags). Each Snapchat user has a unique two-dimensional code built around a customizable Snapchat user avatar. It looks like a simplified, better-looking QR code, and it works essentially the same way. Now you can share your SnapCode as a photo on social media, and other Snapchat users can simply point their camera at the image and the app adds the friend. Alternately (and this is pretty amazing), you can screen-capture a SnapCode, save it to your photo roll, and later ask SnapChat to scan the image while it’s still in your photo roll.

Now Venmo, Instagram, and other social apps offer the same function, using their own version of the Snapcode. Instagram uses “nametags” which simply use character recognition to read the account name, but Venmo uses QR codes and TikTok uses a cool-looking circular graphic. The ease of adding connections on an app like Venmo cannot be overstated. People dining together who may not know each well can simply scan each other’s codes from one phone to another, and settle the check.

Meanwhile, retailers and service providers are building QR functionality into their mobile apps in order to accept payment, as an alternative to Google Wallet and Apple Pay options, combining loyalty rewards programs with wireless money exchange, and hopefully this is just for starters. Anything your phone does can be a hundred times more useful and convenient if the hassle of typing info from a keyboard screen is eliminated. In the very near future, expect to see more QR codes (and their imitations), bringing the concept back to life now that we have something good to do with them.

 

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