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We are all starting to see the square, scannable QR codes on billboards, advertisements, etc.

I have been increasingly thinking that this standard will not last long.

My logic is this: Any handheld device that has the power and ability to process QR codes basically has the ability to do regular optical character recognition on any snapshot taken by its input device.

Therefore, any possible use of a QR code could be implemented more nicely, and with less ugliness, by simply placing the alphanumeric text of a URL or any other identifier, and placing a nice easily-recognized standardized logo next to it which basically means "scan me!"

Whereas, using the square QR code is butt-ugly, and more importantly, requires the person posting the code to go to some app to generate the code.

Isn't it more flexible and future-oriented to simply embrace that very very strong OCR abilities are among us and QR codes will be left in the dust? There are already apps that look at a photograph, scan for text, translate the text into spanish, and then paste that translated text into the image IN THEIR ORIGINAL FONT SIZE. Doesn't that leave QR in the dust?

I can think of one argument that QR has going for it: I read that one code can represent 4200 alphanumeric characters. Clearly, for uses that NEED that much data in the code, it is nicer to scan a square code than 7-8 full paragraphs of text! However, I cannot think of any use cases for a QR code to hold large amounts of data like that -- all of the uses I have seen for it have been to hold a unique identifier (like a URL) which then takes the user to a location with the fuller data. And as URL shorteners show us, a unique identifier can be tiny tiny tiny and still get you to access the gazillions of locations on the web, for example. So, for part two of this question, I'm interested to hear which use cases for QR would involve representing more than roughly URL-length content.

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+1 for great question. Google search is already pretty good at identifying logos, and the likes. IMO, QR codes, not elegantly, but subtly hides away boring/trivial information that you might not want to clutter up you image/brand/logo/ad. –  Michael Jun 15 '11 at 6:24
    
I use a lot of QR codes for personal inventory and I too have the same feeling that these may have their days counted, one thing that I really don't like in these codes is the inability to know what they are without reading them, I mean, you have to read them anyway with your device, but if you want to distinguish them without a device there is no way and a different system could maybe take that in account. –  jackJoe Jun 15 '11 at 8:40
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good answers to this one. the "unity" of the checkerboard logo (as opposed to "clutter" of text) is indeed a plus. Hmm, I wonder if optical recognition would ever get so sensitive that you could actually use steganography (or something approaching it), embedded in a nice-looking picture, as a prettier QR code? –  estephan500 Jun 16 '11 at 6:34
    
One more comment -- nobody had an answer for my second question in my last sentence, namely "what are the use cases that would make a person wish that their scannable code could hold huge 4200 characters rather than a simply unique identifier, url, or address, that would point to fuller data?" I guess half an answer is: when the person scanning has zero net access, yet you want the person to grab long paragraphs of text when they scan. But: when the heck would that be wanted? something about encryption? uhhh... –  estephan500 Jun 16 '11 at 7:14
    
My main use of large amounts of text is to embed the inventory details (in my case it's very useful), it's better than having a sheet of paper with printed details. –  jackJoe Jun 16 '11 at 8:22

9 Answers 9

My guess would be that the 'butt-uglyness' of the QR code is actually what makes it stand out from all the other printed information.

I suspect they'll be with us for a long time to come.

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After reading your post, I agree that the QR codes may live for a long time (as do the common bar code), but what will the bigger fish be that will make the QR codes as old as todays bar code? –  jackJoe Jun 15 '11 at 10:51
    
well, in my proposed method, simple alphanumeric info next to a nice standardized logo or glyph, that would hopefully draw the eye and make people realize that it was scannable. but you're right -- those square checkerboards sure as hell do stand out. that hyper distinctive shape might start to look pretty crusty after a year or two though. –  estephan500 Jun 16 '11 at 6:25
    
Part of the attraction of QR codes is their artistic potential: - "Facebook Decorates Its Roof With A 42-Foot Wide QR Code" techcrunch.com/2012/03/25/facebook-rooftop-qr-code –  PhillipW Apr 3 '12 at 13:26

The most important part of the long term success of QR codes or in fact any form of 'recognition' technology will be closely aligned to the quality of the content you are directed to.

Having used these codes recently in a case study for mobile context the main issue is where I end up. Almost all the pages I'm directed to are web pages and as I'm only really likely to have landed on the page from a mobile device with a camera capable of reading a QR code - please ensure I'm presented a page that is optimised for mobile devices.

At the moment this feels like technology for technologies sake, when 'new' functionality like this becomes available it's often the case that all prior knowledge is forgotten thought not applicable to this technique. Here do landing pages not needs to follow similar best practice as described by google for landing pages created to support successful Adword campaigns, where the content is targeted and optimised to support - maybe solely - that marketing activity

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true points but the issue around implementing the tool to bring people to relevant or useful resources that are "prepared" for the users' arrival is the same for QR as for other possible approaches like the one I mentioned. –  estephan500 Jun 16 '11 at 6:22

jackJoe brought up an interesting point in the comments:

[W]hat will the bigger fish be that will make the QR codes as old as todays bar code?

This is in the context of mobile devices.

In my opinion, the future answer to QR codes is near field communications (NFC). You can have the same functionality that a QR code provides (links and URI's mostly) combined with other functionalities like contact-less payment.

In addition to being a viable replacement, the user experience is much cleaner. When using a QR code, you have to open a capable application and instantiate the capture. With NFC, you place the device near the NFC tag, and the device completes the transaction. More people may be inclined to use it.

I've had the opportunity to play with both. We setup a 40" LCD running a webserver. We added a layer of interactivity by using QR Codes to answer a poll question. The results are on the screen and you use your mobile device to vote by scanning the QR Code and going to a mobile-optimized "remote." We also embedded the same functionality into an NFC tag. We got more responses on the QR code because the technology for reading them is more developed - however, the process was about 75% faster with the NFC tag for those who had it.

Right now NFC is limited in the US, but if/when it hits the iPhone 5, I think it has a potential to reach more users. A downside to this is that NFC tags are much more costly to deploy with a cost of about $1.75 per tag, where as a QR Code can be created and printed for next to nothing.

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haha! but then you have the future paper electronics, which will make that technology cheaper (a lot!) and maybe even evolve to something bigger! You post gave me some ideas, and I wonder if we could interact with QR codes in a two way stream, like: I read the QR code and the code then does something (?), the best I've done so far with this thought was to embed a tiny URL and then track the number of clicks, it's hardly the same thing. I wonder if NFC could do something along these lines? –  jackJoe Jun 15 '11 at 17:42
    
The idea of these methods isn't necessarily to produce a two way relationship, but rather to instantiate a (possible) two-way relationship, where one entity can quickly interface with another. Right now, QR Codes are being absolutely abused as shortcuts to a URL. They're kinda useless that way - they should be a way to interact with whatever you're scanning, and act as the intermediary between two endpoints. –  Nic Jun 15 '11 at 17:52
    
One advantage of QRs over embedded NFC tags is that they sit on the surface of things - so you can slap them on anything really. –  PhillipW Jun 15 '11 at 21:12
    
@PhillipW I had one nearby so I took a picture: i.imgur.com/LAQzR.jpg They're actually remarkably thin, and these are stickers. –  Nic Jun 15 '11 at 21:42
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Another advantage that QR has over NFC is in cases where the user cannot get near. I've seen huge QR codes on billboards, on buildings. The "ugliness" is a personal opinion. A QR code (or even a regular barcode) can be integrated in the design of the surrounding content. –  Tommy Carlier Jul 5 '11 at 9:46

We use QR codes in manufacturing and to identify product parts and other information on pieces. I see this technology as a cheap alternative to rfid tags, and more importantly there are environments (like in a hospital) where you want to minimize electronic/radiating stuff, so QR codes are actually better.

Maybe they will phase out in time as a consumer/end-user technology, but imho they are here to stay.

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so, in that use that you describe, it is quite important that the tag holds a LOT of data, like the size equivalent of several paragraphs of text? it is not enough for the tag to encode just one or a couple unique IDs of some kind that reference fuller records elsewhere? –  estephan500 Jul 10 '11 at 3:55
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I think it isn't as much data needed. For example for a disposable liquid used in a hospital you would need expiration date, identification of the product and one or two other relevent data. This is more reliable than OCR (think about different light conditions, contaminations etc.). While I can't go into details one of the projects I'm now involved with builds on using QR codes.. –  Péter Polgár Jul 20 '11 at 14:35
    
And radio transmitted information like NFC or RFID get in trouble if iron or liquids are in space. And those techs doesn't work in a bulk: did you wonder why RFID isn't plugged in a supermarket setting? Imagine how cool a self-checkout would be just wlaking out of the door and all RFIDs would transmit their ids/prices. Does't work! They would send all their Ids at once and the reciever won't understand a single Id! –  FrankL Jan 4 at 18:49

The important thing about symbols is that they represent things. When the user sees a QR code, or a barcode in general, he/she knows that it contains information. Scanning a logo for the sake of it makes no real sense. How can you know if something is scanneable or not? It looks artificial, it's made to stand out. Nicer implementations like coca-cola bottles barcodes are a tendency but it still looks like what it is.

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Here's some numbers when it comes to QR Codes:

http://heidicohen.com/qr-code-data/

They are based on Nielsen studies.

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QR Codes standard have been standardized in the 2000, so 11 years is already not a bad run, I don't think they are going anywere any time soon!

Regarding the big amount of data, I personally have a QR Code on my VisitCard that contains my whole address entry (name, address, phones, emails, sites, company details, etc...) which by scan allows you to add a phonebook entry automatically (so yes, that's a lot of data - maybe not 4000 chars but still).

Also, since QR Codes have error correction built-in (by pixel areas), it is possible (and I've seen those already) to contain a custom LOGO inside the QR Code, which is then still scannable (correctly) even thought it includes a logo!

This is all my humble opinion...

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Can you show a picture of your VisitCard? I mean, how much space is that QR-Code actually eating up? –  Marcel Oct 11 '12 at 18:44

In regards to your mention of character recognition capabilities, you might have to consider that QR codes are more robust and thus better suited to scanning of information that plain text. Compared to a written word, the redundancy of the stored information in a QR code is higher. See this section of the wikipedia article on QR codes. This level of robustness makes QR codes perfect for use in unpredictable conditions: Lighting my vary, parts of a poster ripped off or washed out, the camera might take a blurry image, etc.

Words, too, have information redundancy, as cn be prvn by te fct tht y cn read ths, but this same encoding redundancy goes much deeper in QR code encoding and makes them more resilient. This makes the QR code a solid technology for today's common place technology capabilities. As image and word recognition progress, this valuable characteristic might change.

Which brings me to my next point. The possibility of decoding QR codes that have visual information in them, but due to good error correction can be deciphered nonetheless. enter image description here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Extreme_QR_code_to_Wikipedia_mobile_page.png)

With this use of visual elements to give a better visual clue as to what content the QR code will link to, I think it is only fair to suggest that this direction of development will continue. The theme here is hiding away a technology and infusing it with more human readable elements - in the end a QR code by itself fails, partly due to the face that it will not entice any emotional response. There already is digital watermarking technology that encodes information into digital images (first search hit to a commercial product: http://www.adptools.com/en/signmyimage-description.html). My guess is that QR codes and this encoding into visual information will continue to converge. I could imagine that the future brings images that have a little "scannable" indicator logo and in themselves hold the information to scan - a QR code in the form of a full color image.

And finally, I think the biggest hurdle with QR codes is also what I think will ensure more than anything that, eventually, the QR code will take a sidestep and become less and less important. The user experience of scanning a code simply is not very satisfying. While augmented reality as well as other input and search methods advance (think NFC, Google Glass, voice input and recognition), it will become more and more of a tedious exercise to walk up in front of a printed poster and scan a code to access what you can access faster and in a socially considerably less awkward manner.

This article by Aaron Strout on marketingland.com also makes a couple of good points that hint towards a decline of the QR code. In particular these two points I couldn't agree more with, when it comes to describing what I am referring to as bad user experience:

In many cases, the mobile experience sitting behind the QR code is a disappointment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried scanning these codes only to be taken to non-mobile optimized sites, or worse, to a site where I scratched my head wondering what the connection to the original call-to-action was

and

Some QR codes end up in places with no wifi or connectivity on your phone (airplane, subway station). This is an obvious fail.

Due to the initially mentioned technological superiority and robustness the QR will surely have a log lifespan ahead still, but I reckon it will be as a more advanced type of barcode (think flight boarding codes, pass codes, that sort of application), and less as a means to transfer and exchange information between humans.

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Way to go, @kontur. Super answer! –  Benny Skogberg Jan 3 at 21:38

standardized logo next to it which basically means "scan me!"

A standardized logo is important to invite the user, but could be also good for a better positioning and orientation, like the rectangles in the QR-Code. The most difficult thing on OCRing a single string on a wide picture is to catch where the string starts and ends.

Something like:

❱❯❭ example.com/mysuperimportantpage ❬❮❰ 

imho you even dont need a

very very strong OCR

If you use a machine-readable typeface (like FE-Schrift for license plates) and a good contrast. Imho you will have similar results like QR Code, even if there is:

different light conditions, contaminations

A human and machine readable typeface would safe place, be not so ugly and prevent qr-hijacking

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This doesn't appear to address the question. It's more a continued discussion of the subject of the question. Please check out the help center and faq to learn more about good answers on UX.SE –  norabora Jun 25 at 19:36

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