The Future of QR Codes

It seems like I've been hearing about QR Codes and tags as “the next big thing” for years. You’ve likely seen one on a piece of advertising, even if you didn't know what it is. The square printed graphic contains data that can be read by scanning it with the camera on your smartphone through a free app.

Here at Curator, we use a similar technology (Microsoft Tags) on our business cards (above), and if you scan it you’ll get our contact info imported into your address book. But most often these tags or codes are encoded with a URL related to whatever is being promoted, such as a special discount or a website with more information about a product. They offer an immediate way (QR stands for “quick response”) for consumers to learn more about and engage with a brand.

But are they really “the next big thing”? Until recently, I thought of QR codes as a stalled trend. I’ve noticed QR codes in the Seattle area on the occasional placard or printed materials, but hardly everywhere. Anecdotally, I can’t think of a time when I’ve seen someone scan one. Yet on a recent trip to New York and Europe I was shocked at how prevalent the codes were. Seemingly every billboard and sign on the NYC Subway and Long Island Railroad had a QR code affixed. In the airports in Copenhagen, Reykjavik and Stockholm, QR codes were ubiquitous. In Stockholm, for example, the transit systems had QR codes that you could scan to see if the bus or train was running late.

I’m not the only one pondering the future of QR codes – this week I read a blog post about how a small Thai restaurant in Los Angeles is using them on their menus to give diners “another dimension to the experience” by linking to a website with detailed information on the dishes. And just this week CNN used an on-screen QR code in its coverage of the Republican presidential debate.

Does this mean QR codes are poised to catch on in the United States as they have abroad? My instinct is yes, mainly because of the increasing popularity of smartphones. Smartphone ownership in the U.S. increased 13 percent from January 2011 to April 2011, and that growth isn’t likely to slow down. As more consumers have a device that lets them easily scan that QR code on a poster, I expect we’ll see more American campaigns brands incorporating those postage-stamp-like images.

Do you access QR codes or use them in your business?