Why QR codes never took off

I was sitting at an airport café last week while waiting for my flight to board. I noticed that my drink had a QR code on its packaging. Then I thought, “Wow, they’re still doing that?”. I hurriedly got my phone to scan it. Turns out I didn’t have a QR code reader on my phone. So, I had to go to the app store, download the app, launch it, and finally scan the code. It led me to a website that showed all the nutrition facts about my drink. This got me thinking, “Why did I have to go through all those steps to see that information?”

We see QR codes everywhere -- products, posters, business cards, etc. -- but have you ever stopped to wonder why people aren’t actually using them?

QR codes have a number of creative uses. Some restaurants put QR codes on their menus so that customers can scan to order. Businessmen place them on calling cards so that recipients can automatically call them by scanning the code. Big companies even use QR codes for their marketing campaigns. Case in point: Starbucks’ Scavenger hunt collaboration with Lady Gaga in 2011.

But despite their potential, QR codes never became as popular as they were pegged to be, which is quite puzzling because almost everyone in the world has a smartphone. In 2014 alone, smartphone sales reached 1.2 billion units per year (DazeInfo). With that statistic, you would think that more people would use their devices to scan every QR code that they see. But this simply isn’t the case. In fact, only 1 in 7 smartphone users scan QR codes with their devices (Visualead). And this might just be the reason why:

QR code scanners don't come by default on smartphone cameras. Let’s go back to what I encountered in the airport café: I had to do at least 4 things just to see the information from the QR code: launch the app store, download the app, launch the app, and finally scan the code.

Now, picture this: You’re reading a magazine and you see an ad with a QR code. You grab your smartphone, launch the default camera app and then scan the code. Doesn’t that sound more convenient?

If we truly want to make QR codes happen, iOS and Android devices should readily have a QR code scanner on their default cameras. They do this and I can guarantee that we’ll see a spike in QR code usage.

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