2D Or Not 2D

20 02 2012

They’re everywhere. In print ads. Outdoor advertising. Taxis. Signage. Product packaging. Even the Tube in London. If you have not yet seen a 2D (aka QR) bar code, you must have been living in a cave.

These so-called Quick Response icons operate just like the bar codes found on packaged goods, except they are for consumer use rather than inventory, price-checking or checking out. For the 50-percent of USAmericans with a smartphone, free scanner apps are available that allow us to scan the QRs and then be whisked off to web content.

Of course, if you are riding in the Tube, they are pretty much worthless, because there are no cell signals 100 feet below the surface.

But above ground, they serve a multitude of purposes. They are a great way to subtly issue a call to action, and then present viewers with far more content than could displayed in the space occupied by the code.

But some people think that QR codes will not last. And a big part of me agrees, albeit for possibly different reasons.

As it stands, only 5-percent of us have actually interacted with one. That’s a speed bump if there ever were one. This translates to about 10-percent of smartphone users scanning a code…pretty low for a device that is touted as being to do everything.

From my corner of the intersection, I see the problem being more one of clutter than getting people to open up an app. There are so many QR codes littering the landscape that we could not possibly attend to all of them. And never mind that they all look quite a bit alike.

Another problem is lack of standardization. At present there are five different QR formats, and one app does not work on all formats. For example, without the TagReader app, you cannot read the colorful little triangles in the Microsoft version of QRs. Which means you cannot scan anything in a hard copy of the USA Today.

And you thought it was difficult reconciling Microsoft and Apple products.

But other critics argue that QRs will have a short shelf life because better scanning apps are available, apps that can look at a product, building, virtually anything, rather than a bunch of jagged little squares. From these apps we will be able to access product information and even make purchases. Need more information on the Grand Canyon? Aim your phone at it.

Ironically, though, for all the bluster in the linked article, this app has already been available for over a year. It is…drumroll, please…the Google Mobile App. And you were expecting something more exotic.

Better yet, this app comes with both a camera and a microphone interface. This allows me to aim at any object and get quick feedback (not always right, mind you), or speak. Just a minute ago, while pondering lunch, I spoke the words “Mexican restaurants,” which resulted in a results page showing me places in both Canyon and south Amarillo whereby I could satisfy my desire for chips and salsa.

While this is all nice, I do not see this as being a five finger death punch for QR codes. QRs can lead to far richer media content, whereas Google’s visual/audio search only produces the same kinds of things you would do with their search engine.

You see, there is a huge difference between basic search and the desire for additional content. And while I will admit to using the camera for laughs and giggles among friends, I don’t think the quality of returned information is as meaningful as what can be done via QR codes. QRs take the guesswork out of the equation, and send users to a specific place, whereas Google results give a variety.

And sometimes nothing at all. I tired it on a large canvas print in my office of UK’s Stonehenge. It choked completely.

That’s another way of saying that, as for the QR code, reports of its death are greatly exaggerated. Unless you’ve been living in that cave, in which case this is all moot anyway. Smoke signals, anyone?

Dr “It’s In The Scan” Gerlich

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