Android: the catalyst for QR codes

QR codes are nothing new. They are a form of 2D bar code invented (and patented) by Denso in 1994. They’ve been huge in Japan for years, in part because of their ability to encode Japanese Kara.

Despite being so popular in Japan, QR codes have so far failed to really take off elsewhere. Europe and America have dabbled in them, even the BBC has (unknown to most) a QR Code for every programme microsite, but year after year we talk about them, yet they fail to go mainstream.

Why? Well, it’s mainly due to mobiles not being shipped with a QR Code reader (outside Japan) as a pre-installed application. Add to this the fact that many barcode readers and camera phones (especially the earlier ones) were not that good. Plus the discovery/install process is still awkward for many users. There are multiple barriers to use.

The iPhone failed

The iPhone could have changed all that, but hasn’t. The iPhone has enjoyed impressive adoption rates in some countries, but once again QR code readers are not installed as standard and QR Codes are not part of the iPhone user experience. Subsequently the barcodes have not been adopted to any significant extent by advertising agencies or iPhone app publishers.

A simple show of hands at a recent unconference event in Sweden during a talk by Per Axbom showed that only 5 out of 25 power iPhone users had used QR Codes. Is that showing their lack of usefulness, or simply showing the lack of relevant codes deployed in useful situations?

Adopted by the Android community

In contrast to iPhone users, the Android community has taken to QR Codes and adopted a very practical use for them. They have become quite common for the marketing and distribution of applications. By using an application such as Zxing (also available for the iPhone as Barcodes) you can install applications by just scanning a QR Code.

The idea is that you often research and discover apps whilst browsing with your laptop. Then, once the decision to install is made, you scan the QR code and due to the “market:” URI encoded within the barcode, you’ll get taken straight to the market place page where you can install it.

On top of installing applications, you can also use QR codes to a number of other things such as installed applications, bookmarks and contact details. It is much easier for QR codes to become part of the Android user experience.

With the growth forecast for Android based mobile phones over the next few years, we will see the user base expand dramatically and thereby so will the awareness of QR codes. This in turn will lead to a more natural use of QR codes in many more situations.

Business cards such as mine will almost certainly become much more familiar sights, and perhaps some of the other numerous possible uses might, at last, become mainstream.