Native QR Integration: It’s About Time

Person holding phone trying to scan a QR code

“Apple is a man’s best friend,” she said.

Apple release some great new functionality with iOS11 this week. I’m a marketing geek, so what caught my eye? QR Code functionality native to the Camera app!

The article I read sort of glossed over it, characterizing it as cool, but otherwise pretty much, meh. I guess I understand his sentiment, but my initial reaction was “It’s about damn time.”

Don’t Blame the Apple

So why is not every marketer in the world super pumped about this development? Well, let’s jump back in time real quick. QR Codes, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, are those little square boxes that look something like bar codes, something like a film noir Mondrian. If you read the Wikipedia page, you’ll find that the code was developed in 1994, but it wasn’t until the mid-2000s when the technology finally matured for it to be useful to marketers and consumers alike. Smart phone proliferation needed to happen. Users needed to turn to their device for information first. In ’94, we still turned to the Yellow Pages. <shudder>

QR Codes were easy to program and marketers who weren’t even on Facebook yet were feeling like this is the best way to engage consumers on portable devices. It was. But boy did we screw that up. More on that later, but marketing wasn’t the only industry to slow walk this versatile tech. Phone manufacturers never caught on to the single point of resistance, that a user had to download a QR Reader App. A third-party tool was necessary to read and react to the Code. And that came at a cost, sometimes a real financial cost, but more importantly the cost of inconveniencing the consumer. They had to use two valuable resources to get this information, and that’s a matter of time and space. Time to find a reader and download it. And the space in which those apps take up on their device! Not to mention even the annoyance of the “free apps” that push ads out with each use.

By now we’ve already ticked off the consumer because with a QR Code we’re promising them great information or a great experience, but only after you go through these hoops. But now we’ve got a dedicated consumer. They’ve downloaded the app. They’ve committed a couple minutes to the process, and now their phone is several megabits heavier. Now here’s where we bungle the works…Once they scan the code, their browser opens up and Boom! A digital version of the same brochure they just read. Or a web site offering no new content. Or worse yet, a web site asking you to fill in information in order to receive an email with a link back to the same web site with a so-so article that only barely interests the now disengaged consumer.

It’s happened. To me. More than once. Actually, I don’t have that many digits to count how many times this has happened.

A Long Time Ago

I’ve been on this soap box since 2007 – for ten years I have rallied for great QR Code usage and criticized how badly we’ve mangled this promising technology. Looks like Apple finally listened to me on the first point. But is it too late? Have we, for the past decade, ruined any hope of QR Codes actually serving the potential they promise. Yes, but Episode IV, baby.

Yes, there is a New Hope. Two unlikely companions that are also on the cusp of ruin, can join forces with QR and win the day. AR, augmented reality, and VR, virtual reality, are technologies that have been around since the 90s, too, yet are breathing new life. We’ve not killed these two off yet, but with the right minds to bring AR & VR to the real world, accessible through native QR functionality, QR can revive as a resurrected victor. Otherwise, Apple just started the Zombie Apocalypse.