Saturday, March 16, 2013

Can QR Codes Avoid the CueCat Trap?

Can QR codes avoid the CueCat trap as other technologies break into the mainstream? CueCat was a transition technology of the turn of the century, a way for consumers to scan a code and receive product information. Time called it one of the 50 worst inventions ever. QR isn't the same as CueCat, because it's not as narrow, it's not tethered to a desktop PC, and it has more marketing potential--but whether it's still on the way up or has already jumped the shark, that's hard to tell.

One commentary (from SXSW) calls QR codes one of those tech trends that just won't die but hasn't yet reached its full potential. I have to agree.

We hear a lot about QR codes and see them in store windows, on billboards, in ads, often on grocery labels and even on produce tags. One of the most applauded campaigns is Macy's BackStage Pass, which brings consumers to proprietary videos and other content when they scan QR codes in a Macy's store.

Still, not many consumers currently use their smartphones to scan product labels, according to research. Yet the Macy's experience shows that QR codes can be useful if they lead consumers to details not easily accessed in other ways, especially when content is optimized for mobile users (meaning: easy to read on small screens).

IMHO, QR codes represent a transition between the past and the future technology. They can pack a lot of data into a small space and all you need is a smartphone to tap the info. One American Libraries article notes that that shortened URLs might serve the same purpose by bringing consumers to mobile sites with more info or databases, etc. In other words, QR isn't the only way to conveniently deliver info on demand.

In the near term, QR will stick around because other technologies (like near field communications) aren't quite there yet. And QR may very well develop other functionality and become a gateway to other information or activities available to smartphone users. Let's see what happens in 2013.

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