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Are QR Codes The Future or Just a Fad?

It seems as if these little black and white squares are starting to pop-up everywhere including in magazines, on billboards, and featured at tradeshow booths. But what exactly are they and what do they do?

These squares are referred to as Quick Response codes, or a “QR” code for short. Using a mobile device and a QR scanner application, a person can take a picture of the QR code with their phone which will redirect them to text or even a website. This destination of the QR code is controlled by whoever makes the code, which means although many codes may look the same from a distance the content the codes deliver after they are scanned can vary greatly.

QR codes grew at a rapid pace a few years ago in South Korea and Japan but are just finally starting to catch on in the United States. While there have been many small independent studies of the effectiveness of QR codes in the U.S. it wasn’t until recently that a major study was conducted and offered significant insight into the true effectiveness of QR codes on different mediums.

Earlier this month, digital analytics expert comScore released a study on QR codes from data collected in June 2011 containing responses of more than 14,000 U.S. residents over the age of 13. Some of the results were surprising…

  • An estimated 14 million mobile users in the U.S., representing 6.2% of all mobile users in the U.S., have scanned a QR code on their mobile devices.
  • Almost half of all QR code users have scanned QR codes in print magazines or newspapers. QR codes featured on product packaging and websites were also scanned by over 25% of QR code users.
  • Despite the heavy use of QR codes in print mediums such as fashion magazines, over 60% of the population who scanned QR codes were male.
  • People scan QR codes primarily at home but are also likely to scan them in retail stores, grocery stores, and at work.
  • Household incomes of people who scanned QR codes were predominately over $100,000 and the primary age demographic of code scanners were between the ages of 25 and 34.

As you can conclude from the statistics posted above, QR codes seem to have been adopted primarily by educated males who are traditionally “early adopters” of emerging technologies. So are QR codes the next big thing?

There’s actually a good chance QR codes may peak in popularity soon. A popular QR Code blog has predicted as QR codes become more commonplace in the U.S. they will blend into the background the same way they currently do in Japan. Even Google has elected to discontinue using QR codes as they feel the technology will soon be dated.

The QR code “hype cycle” graph above is based on the Gartner Hype Cycle for emerging technologies and shows while QR code usage in the U.S. is increasing it could actually be declining in Japan.

So what does Google feel will replace the QR code? It’s a newly revitalized technology being integrated into smartphones around the world called Near Field Communication, or NFC for short.

NFC can be used not only for marketing but also in the realm of eCommerce, social media / gaming, and to replace physical items such as hotel room cards.

NFC allows information to be transferred between two devices via radio waves. Essentially NFC is similar to using a QR code but doesn’t require consumers to open the app and scan the code. NFC also allows users to create their own unique “code” for identification purposes. NFC was first integrated into cell phones by Nokia back in 2006, but was slow to pick-up steam until recently when NFC chips were added to popular Android and BlackBerry phones. Apple is also looking to incorporate NFC into future versions of the iPhone as well and has applied for several NFC-related patents to use in the future with their devices.

So are QR codes the future or just a fad? Honestly there are arguments for both sides but it appears as if QR codes could merely be a bridge between traditional print media and NFC technology. Popularity may continue to grow for QR codes in the U.S., especially its usage in print media, but as NFC grows it will most likely be the preferred solution due to its ease of use and breadth of services it can cover. Either way, QR codes are still one of the few mediums marketers and retailers can use to extend their efforts beyond the page or billboard and into the memories of their consumers.

What are your thoughts on QR codes? Do you think they will still be around 5 years now? Feel free to comment below…