Will NFC technology kill off the QR code?

NFC Bump Spot

I’ve been aware of NFC for sometime and back in January we published a consumer guide to NFC centred around how I believe it will be the next big thing in mobile. At the weekend I mentored at Launch48 in Birmingham and one of the participants showed me what he was doing with NFC, and all I could say was “Wow!”

When I saw NFC technology in action first hand, it didn’t do anything that I was not already aware of, but actually experiencing it really put it in perspective and left me wondering about where that leaves the future of QR codes.

The demonstration was fairly basic. He had a wafer thin sticky label, approximately 1 inch in diameter, the sort of label that could easily be adhered to the back of a poster, placed on a business card, or appended to all manner of things. He waived his Android phone near the device and it took him directly to a website. No specialised NFC apps were running, no lining up a camera and taking a picture. Nothing. It. Just. Worked.

And this is where QR codes have an inherent weakness. Many phones do not possess native support for QR codes, but instead rely upon having an app installed that allows you to photograph the QR code, and then the app decides upon the appropriate action. This is far from fluid and may in part explain the slow consumer uptake. not only does a consumer need to know what a QR code is and why it might help them, but to have an impact, the consumer must already have installed the appropriate app on their phone and be ready to use it. Compare this to NFC, whereby any NFC enabled phone can just be tapped or placed near the hotspot, and appropriate action automatically takes place.

You may now be wondering whether the cost of this NFC techno-wizardry might prevent its uptake, after all, QR codes can be created for free. The NFC label shown to me was bought in very low quantities for less than 5p. In volume, these devices are going to be available for a fraction of that price to the point where the cost is negligible compared to the production cost of the material it will be appended to or embedded within. It is this low cost and ease of use that may spell the end for QR codes.

Not all mobiles yet support NFC technology though. There is no Apple device out there with NFC support, but the next generation of devices surely will have the technology incorporated. most new Android and Windows Phones already support NFC, even though opportunities to make use of it is currently limited. I foresee a time in the very near future whereby all new Internet enabled mobile devices have support for NFC included.

So is there a future for QR codes? This author thinks not. They have struggled to gain mass appeal, and the marketers are partly to blame for this, publishing adverts that rely on curiosity to get people to scan, consisting nothing more of a large QR code and a prompt to “Scan Me”, to which I would respond with “Why bother?”. Similarly there are many other inappropriate uses of QR codes. I’ve seen them around the London Underground, the place you can almost guarantee your mobile will not work. A QR code without a mobile signal serves no purpose whatsoever.

There are still places where a QR code would work where NFC cannot, for example on a TV programme or video broadcast, a QR code will work perfectly well, NFC is impossible. Similarly, anything from a distance, whereby you could photograph the QR code, but not get near enough to touch an NFC icon. This is rather limiting though and I am left wondering whether such a limited application of QR code technology will result in it never attaining the mass appeal to keep it in the public domain as a marketing tool.

Let us know if you have scanned a QR code and was it worthwhile? Are you a business currently using QR codes? Are you eager to see how you can incorporate NFC into your business? Let us know your thoughts.

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