There’s an informative series of articles over at Shawn Smith’s blog on NewMediaBytes.com about Quick Response (QR) codes. For the unfamiliar, QR codes are 2-dimensional barcodes that contain information about a product or service, similar to (but better than) the barcodes you are used to seeing on everyday products.
QR codes are already popular in Asia, where consumers snap photos of them with their cell phones in newspapers, billboards, and other un-wired media. Special software takes the image and converts it to data such as a URL that can be accessed on the phone’s browser or downloaded to a computer. It remains to be seen how popular these items will become outside of the Asian market, but Shawn’s series of posts paint a very rosy picture of QR codes’ future in the U.S.
I am sure that QR codes will play a role in the mobile web of the future because the technology is too powerful to ignore. However, I don’t think the U.S. market is ready for them just yet and adoption rates will be slowed by the expense and low penetration of broadband-enabled phones with data plans. Case in point, a ZDNet article about an initial trial at Case Western University shows that students are slow to adopt the new technology for a few primary reasons:
- Cell phone carriers charge for data usage. The price for each transaction varies by carrier and by whether the phone owner has an unlimited data plan or pays by the megabyte.
- The software does not come pre-loaded on cell phones.
- There is no standard technology in the U.S. that spans multiple wireless carriers, handset manufacturers, and software developers.
- QR codes are currently only deployed in a few locations around campus: bus shelters, campus newspapers, and a few promotional handouts.
In my opinion, the market will mature when consumers get free (or ad-supported) access to these programs and the wireless industry implements and promotes a common set of standards. The technology has to be built in, work on any device and with any carrier, and should be as idiot-proof as taking a picture with the phone’s camera.