QR codes: are they really dead as we think?

QR Code is a machine-readable code consisting of an array of black and white squares, typically used for storing URLs or other information for reading by the camera on a smartphone. It transfers you to a dedicated website and was created to connect an online and offline world together.

QR codes’ miserable failure and death were already announced a few years ago. Even though statistics show that the number of users scanning QR codes rises, the repetitiveness of that action wasn’t included in those reports. Guess you figured out why – there are plenty of people who scanned a code once, let down and decided to never do it again. Why? Many reasons: poor target website mobile optimization, QR codes planted in a no WiFi areas (planes, subways) or having a mobile device which camera cannot read QR codes.

But wait a minute before you give up on QR codes completely. Surprisingly, recently one of the biggest IT company in the world decided to give the QR codes a second chance by fixing one of the issues mentioned above. In June 2017 Apple announced that its new operating system (iOS11) beta version will enable iPhone camera to read QR codes No more downloading a third-party app to do so – to scan a code you just need to point your camera in its direction. And that’s it!

The update raised a big discussion: why to implement a function that allows using a technology that was dead for years? Well.. is it?

WHY SOMETHING THAT SUCCEEDED IN CHINA, FAILED SO MISERABLY EVERYWHERE ELSE?

As of December 2016, China had 731 million internet users and 95 percent of them surf the web on their smartphones – that’s 695 million in total. Chinese people love their phones and do everything on them if it’s only possible – for example they’re leading when it comes to mobile payments, leaving competition far beyond. And they love QR codes!

The applications with this feature in China are endless! From payments to expanding your social media network (WeChat played a huge part in QR codes populating) to ordering in restaurants: in Beijing, there is a fully automated restaurant where the whole dining experience begins with a QR code scan.

QR code restaurant

QR code in a Chinese restaurant. Photo by Mobile Business Insights

It is estimated that on daily basis Chinese users interact with QR codes 10-15 times and they are visible on most physical products, embedded in billboard ads and even on clothing with QR patterns featured on T-shirts, dresses, and trousers.

The question is: why the same thing that succeeded in China, failed so miserably in the rest of the world?

There is no simple answer to that question, but definitely one of the main factors was support (and lack of it) from the side of the biggest companies. In China, the QR codes madness has been kicked off by the two giants competing with each other: a social network Tencent and e-commerce Alibaba companies.Thanks to their battle QR codes appeared everywhere and became one of the Chinese people everyday basis. And by everywhere we truly mean EVERYWHERE.

Our founders, in a part of their networking and acquiring clients actions, visited China last year. They were absolutely astonished by the fact how much QR codes are popular there – especially when it comes to payments. Even if you go to a fish market or any other fair you will be able to pay for your goods with a QR code. The whole payment process is simple: a salesperson shows you a bar code, you enter the amount of money you want to pay, the other side checks if it’s right and that’s it – your payment has been accepted.

QR code form of payment is very popular in China as it is very convenient to a client and also – there is an engaging gamification feature included. When you are paying by QR code in China you will receive a discount for your purchases from 0.1 % to 50 %. You don’t know how much you will get before the payment is done so it’s a great opportunity to have fun and guess how high will your discount be. No wonder that QR codes payments are much more popular in China than for example Apple Pay.

QR codes in China

Another reason which is brought up a lot when it comes to discussing QR codes failure is that they were… just too much ahead of its time. When they appeared for the first time, smartphones weren’t as advanced and commonly used as these days. Also, the mobile data transmission was much more expensive than nowadays. Now everything changed – mobile market rises hugely every year and our phone became our new best friend.

Besides that, QR codes were never dead – we ARE using them without even notice. They’ve just changed their name. You recognize this yellow Snapchat ghost surrounded by white dots, that not so long ago was visible everywhere, even replacing the biggest companies profile pictures? That’s exactly the same technology as QR codes – and it’s used in Messenger, Spotify, and many others. We are ready as a society to use them and Apple noticed that before anyone else did.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

It’s already happening! Few weeks after the iOS11 announcement, companies started to implement QR codes back. Here we gathered 4 examples of QR codes applications from the last months that impressed us the most:

1. MasterCard decided to broaden its solutions to offer QR codes that can be scanned by either consumers or merchants under a common set of global specifications. The company’s consumer-presented solution will allow the merchant to scan a QR code from a smartphone and process the payment through the Mastercard network. It will leverage M/Chip technology to provide a secure way to pay based on EMV infrastructure.

2. In India University all BEd degrees will carry the name of the college from where the student is completing his/her degree. In addition, it would also carry a QR code linked to the National Academic Depository, to verify the credentials of the institution. Thanks to it the number of students continuing their education after “finishing” a made-up college is supposed to decrease.

3. QR codes can also take social media to a next level and a perfect example is a product presented below.

QR code rucksack

The QR code rucksack. Photo by The Next Web

At the first look, it may seem like an ordinary checked backpack? Wrong! It’s a one gigantic QR code! Take a picture of the backpack with your smartphone and access any online information the backpack owner creates. One in six consumers currently own and use wearables and the industry is projected to be worth $34 Billion by 2020 ー so there is definitely a viable market for social backpacks.

4. Get ready for an example of perfect QR codes and artificial intelligence symbiosis – and all of that for a special noble cause. One of the war veterans, which is paralyzed but is also a huge Star Wars fan got a truly exceptional gift from the scientists recently – a robot to help him with his everyday affairs. The robot recognizes objects in veterans home using QR codes. Thanks to that the robot is able to bring for his owner his most essential products if they will only have QR codes on it.

CONCLUSION

QR codes never died – they were just thriving in a different part of the world. But who knows maybe now, with the Apple on board they will be able to conquer also other markets? Society is ready, technology is ready and devices are also (finally) ready. With teaming up with constantly developing AR and VR technologies QR codes may become the next big thing in an app development. And this time – they won’t allow any skeptics to slow them down.

Interested what are the other big things in app development right now? Check this article about mobile app gamification.

Izabela Majocha
Marketing Specialist
A journalist by education, a Marketing and PR enthusiast by choice. Fascinated by an IT world, especially by AI and AR and their usage in peoples everyday lives. In my free time, I play indie games, cook and watch tons of TV series. 

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