QR codes will be looked back on in history as a gimmick no more impactful than scratch and sniff.

These square images are being used more recently in the last few years as a tool for interacting between two different media. In a study conducted recently the most interacted placements of QR codes were on magazines, packaging, websites and posters.

Stopgap technology

So I get it, you can go from viewing an advert for a game or DVD on a poster to hovering over the ‘buy it now’ button on your mobile in seconds just by taking a picture of a barcode; I see the benefits, but this is just interim technology stuff.

In an ideal world, if you simply looked at the poster with your mobile phone you could be downloading the demo of the game, browsing the movie trailer, or making a purchase instantly. This is, sort of what you can do now, but what makes this an interim measure is the fact that people have to go out and download software to scan these codes. This really limits the audience, and until software is built into the operating systems, it will always be a niche thing.

Regardless of this, QR codes look too technical anyway. Even if they turned into designed objects like these barcodes from Japan they aren’t sexy; and who wants to see black and white barcodes over everything? How about if you didn’t need a barcode? What if you could just look at the advert through your phone?

Removing the need for barcodes completely

Recently I stumbled across Aurasma that does this, in a sort of clunky prototype way, but the technology is promising. Again, the downside at the moment is that you need to download the app, but if this was built into camera software, and the practice became widespread (so that people almost expected to get something if they looked at it with their phone), no longer would you just look at a printed advert, or watch a 30 second TV clip, you could further immerse yourself into the advertised item, but only if you were interested. This is the key. These things are only popular because people want to find out more.

Final thought

The end result of this becoming mainstream is a deeper connection between what you are consuming in the real-world and the digital realm. This happens at both a social and software level. In an age when we go on to IMDB whilst watching a film to find out what else that guy has been in, to reading real-time comments on twitter when watching X-Factor we can link this together to make things we are interested in easier for us to consume, creating a much more fulfilling scenario.


I’d be really interested to find out what your thoughts are on this technology, and how you might think we could interact these things in a better way, if we need to at all.

7 thoughts on “QR codes will be looked back on in history as a gimmick no more impactful than scratch and sniff.

  1. Rob Swan

    I agree QR codes are a total gimick. If the iPhone camera app natively recognised them that would probably change things; but the fact it doesn’t goes to prove the point.

    I actually like to keep a healthy gap between myself and adverts. If I see an advert I want it to be a very deliberate act to follow up on it; if I see a game or DVD I want I just type the name into a search engine or on my chosen ecommerce store to buy it… much like 3D TV; QR codes are a “fix” for something that just isn’t broken in the first place. I think most related forms of augmented reality would be just the same.

  2. Paul Post author

    Thanks for the reply Rob.

    I think the interaction between the real-world and the digital one will always be something people try to tie together, but the solution won’t come by pushing tech onto the consumer.

  3. Andy Mabbett

    There’s more to QR codes than adverts. Have a look at how we’re using them to serve Wikipedia articles, in whatever language the user’s phone is set to, in a project called QRpedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QRpedia

    @Rob: “If I see an advert I want it to be a very deliberate act to follow up on it” – QR codes facilitate exactly that.

  4. Paul Post author

    Andy, thanks for commenting.

    I agree that QR codes are being used in a number of ways with the intention of increasing the user experience (some more so than others) but the technology and application on mobiles still prohibits mainstream uptake. We have a situation in the next few years where they could just turn into a gimmick for geeks.

  5. David Bernstein

    First, let’s recall that the QR Code is not the first attempt to connect print and online. Around 1996 or so, the yellow pages industry attempted to use a new technology known as CueCat developed by Digital Convergence Corporation. It was a total failure. It may have been the wrong technology at the wrong time. You had to connect a small scanning device to your home computer to use it. This was cumbersome and a pain; besides you could just as easily type in a URL since you have the book in front of you anyway.

    I tend to agree that the QR Code as it currently functions is most likely a stop gap measure. What I believe will have to be done in order for the QR Code or its successor viable are 2 things: its must be readable on more than a cell phone and it also must provide the user with an experience other than merely taking her to a website or other information that is generally available on the company’s website.

    The function must be more engaging and provide users with a compelling reason to use the code other than just to see what happens.


  6. Paul Post author

    Thanks for the comment David.

    It’ll be interesting to see if the QR code as we know it will integrate into the mainstream over the coming years.

  7. Pingback: Make the most out of the pages QR codes link to | Paul Randall

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