On the Death of the QR Code

qr code towel / qr theedoekSo, my good friend Aaron Strout, who knows a thing or two about location-based technology, declares the “death of the QR code.” I get it. That said, I am always suspicious of people declaring the “death” of any technology or service. Another thing – can something be dead if it has never really lived?

I have always been skeptical of QR codes. Not because they aren’t a good technology. They are, actually. I just see example after example of poor application.

The most common cited case is the QR code at a cash register, leading merely to a store Web site. I’m at the store; why do I need to do that?

Then there are the impractical applications. A highway billboard? No, scanning a code while driving is not on my list of ways I want to die, though I guess it would get me on the news.

The thing that gets me most, and Aaron touches on it in his blog post, is that there is no consistent native app that comes with phones to scan barcodes. The easiest solution (for the user – not sure how developers feel) would be for the camera app to sense barcodes and QR codes. Why do I even need a separate app (again, I don;t know all the technical challenges there, but from a user point of view, give me that or give me nothing.

Meanwhile, belying any claims of the “death” of QR codes (sorry Aaron), they are seeping in to mainstream media. As I watched the Red Sox game on the NESN sports network before writing this, I noticed a QR code as the announcers discussed the batter’s grip.


I paused the broadcast as aI fumbled for my barcode scanner app, walked up super-close to the TV so I could actually scan the code, and was taken to a page where– well, I couldn’t watch the video because I didn’t have flash on my phone.


Totally useless.

A later QR code taking me to a season schedule got me to the promised website, but still I had to walk right up to the TV to scan the code. Not very practical.

As for solutions? It really depends on the use. It may be there is no universal catch-all. See Aaron’s post for potential other technologies like augmented reality and Near-field communications (NFC) – heck, why not Google Glass and other future “wearable” computing technology? It may be that different technologies are best suited to different uses. Time will tell. Even after all that, I’m not convinced QR codes are dead any more than I think RSS is dead, or print is dead. Hey, even the failures are interesting.

Edit: Laura Fitton hipped me to this: http://wtfqrcodes.com/

And: http://picturesofpeoplescanningqrcodes.tumblr.com/

Photo credit: michel langendijk on Flickr


  1. Agreed.
    QR codes are a the start of a good idea. Half baked, and marketers were too hungry to wait. My favorites are ones that I see on the web. I’m already here!
    I’ve also seen some on on the red line, which is mostly underground. Even if I could scan through the crowds, i can’t get a connection.

    I do wonder if Shazam will pick up where QR codes left off. I’ve been seeing them on a lot of ads recently. Still not a perfect idea, but at least there is one standardized tool.

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