Will Augmented Reality Leap-Frog the QR Code?

The Beer Can Issue of the QR Code

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There continues to be a steady buzz about QR codes, those bar code-looking thingys that can be scanned by a smart phone to link you to added content, a website or perhaps even a coupon at the point of purchase. Here’s the Wikipedia definition.

I’m not an expert in QR codes – or anything for that matter — but I’ve been around long enough to have a good idea if something is going to work or not.  I’m thinking the buzz on QR codes may be short-lived – and I’d like to explain why by telling you a short story about a beer can.

One of my most interesting jobs was global marketing director for aluminum packaging products (like beverage cans).  While this may sound mundane, the opportunity to nurture $2.5 billion in sales with some of the world’s biggest brands was a lot of fun!

On a customer trip, I noticed the flight attendant had a lanyard around her neck with a strange plastic device on the end. The device served as a fulcrum that she used under the tabs to open each can.  I asked her why she just didn’t open the pop-tops with her fingers and she pointed to her well-manicured nails.

I suddenly realized that our humble package had a big problem. A significant part of the population — people with manicured nails — needed a secondary device to open the package. We were vulnerable!  Any competing package that did not require a secondary "opener" (like plastic bottles) would be preferred by these consumers!

This revelation led to an R&D project aimed at an easier-opening lid which included a depressed "well" under the tab to protect well-groomed nails.

QR codes are vulnerable in the same way — you need an "opener" to get to the goods. Consumers will resist this, especially if there is an alternative — and there is.

Last summer I was in Bordeaux and noticed they had QR code posters everywhere to provide information on city events. I was a tourist with money to spend — their target market — but I couldn’t use the system.  Problem 1: The instructions were in French.  Problem 2: You had to download special software to access the information.  Problem 3: As an international visitor, I would have to access expensive roaming charges just to get the code.

The "opener" in this case was a significant obstacle.  If the city went to the trouble of creating posters, why not put up one up that simply had the information people needed? Why make me WORK for it?

Now suppose such a helpful poster existed … you would still have the problem of a language barrier, right? The problem could easily be solved for anybody that had a free smartphone app called WordLens. This technology is part of a swelling trend called augmented reality that I think will leap-frog the QR code innovation.

In this example, by simply holding the phone in front of the foreign language, you get an instantaneous translation and access to the information when you need it, where you need it. No instructions. No dependence on an Internet connection. No expenditure in time or expense.  It’s just an extraordinarily user-friendly experience.

I don’t think you can question the power of the idea behind QR Codes but I have reservations about customer adoption.  I believe augmented reality is one of the seminal technologies of 2011 and a development that could obsolete QR codes in many cases.  Imagine holding your phone up in front of a city street and having discounts, movie times, even names of nearby friends overlayed on top of the buildings?  Or using the phone to scan a display of shirts to immediately find your size, discounts, and matching pants and accessories?

There will probably be legitimate uses for QR codes, especially for industrial applications and logistics tracking, but I believe augmented reality may leap-frog the innovation in the consumer arena before it leaves the gate.  This is just one opinion and I’m sincerely open for debate here — what’s your take on it?

Originally published at BusinessesGrow.com

Will Augmented Reality Leap-Frog the QR Code?
About Mark Schaefer
Executive Director Mark Schaefer has 28 years of global sales and marketing experience and advanced degrees in business and applied behavioral sciences. He is an award-winning business writer, university lecturer and innovator, receiving seven international patents for new product ideas with Fortune 100 companies. He teaches at Pellissippi State College in Knoxville and serves as an adjunct professor of marketing at Rutgers University. http://www.businessesgrow.com WebProNews Writer
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  • http://www.articulatednaturality.com Arj Subanandan

    I wholly agree.

    I wrote a blog post about the augmented reality business card last year. This depended on a QR code but it seemed silly to have two people standing next to each other with, smartphones having to pass a card over transfer contact information. The potential of the AR business card was to offer more, for example an animation, but this wasn’t very exciting to me.

    I’ve rewritten the post for my current blog if you’ve got a couple of minutes spare to read my thoughts.

  • Mike Renwick

    There is a possibility that AR will make QR codes a bit better. Some vision based AR detects markers and places stuff in space- nice, but would be useful to be able to read stuff in space to gain context. This simply isn’t always possible and can’t be made sense of purely based on geographical or image parsing based context. In those instances, if the AR vision augmenting software can read the QR code in realtime and pull the relevant content from the net, you solve the difficult heuristic of reading and recognising the image. Although AR can for example read writing, it may be a QR code is a neat, efficient and easy to parse visually.

    It’s definitely limited in lifespan in consumer contexts though and this article makes an excellent observation of that fact.

  • Guest

    You state that the end user has to download software to read the QR codes. While this may be true for some end users, more and more phones are being shipped from the factory with QR reader software already on them.

  • http://azonmedia.com vesko

    1. This issue is in no way related to the QR codes – it is an issue with the specific campaign. The instructions that are placed right next to the QR code technically have nothing to do with the QR code itself. The very simple fix here is to have the instructions in two languages – the local language and and “lingua franca” – English.
    2. Every modern phone since the last year comes with a QR code reader. Even my Nokia N95 from 2007 had a QR code reader preinstalled. Indeed it is very bad compared to the modern readers, but still does the job of reading plain text & URLs. If the local municipality in Bordeaux requires some specific scanner/software to be installed – this is wrong. They should rely on what it is already installed on the users phones.
    3. The QR codes can contain plain text. Not much (as the code gets bigger and harder to read), but still enough text for like information for a product, coupon…
    Of course if it is required to have a full page with information for the tourists then it has to be put on a mobile site. If you are interested in that information the few dollars for data traffic will be well spent…
    The QR codes are not the only 2D format. They are simply the most popular format of the 2D codes… More advanced formats are to come… like the MMCC (Mobile Multi-Coloured Composite) which will be able to contain much more information.

    Augmented reality is still few years away as there is a lot to be done there… While the QR codes (2D codes in general) are here now. And are a much more reliable technology.
    As well the augmented reality will also require data connection… a lot more traffic than reading a simple text page loaded via QR code. I don’t think that the augmented reality will displace the 2D codes as technically they are two very different things and the 2D codes have the advantage of not requiring any data connection (not even GSM network) to be used, while the augmented reality is pretty much useless without it. So your point for the data connection in this case works in favor of the 2D codes.

  • http://gabesimagination.com gabe

    qr codes were originally developed to quickly pass information to machines in an assembly line, then adapted to their current use int he smartphone world.
    I think they will likely keep hold of that original use. QR codes are most useful when they encapsulate information and make it easy to pass from a physical, printed medium, into a digital medium.
    For example, a poster with human-readable text can be augmented with a QR code that contains the address and a map link, saving the viewer the trouble of typing in the address.
    They are also very useful for passing contact info from a business card directly to a phone, no inputing of data required.
    I am absolutely in agreement that information contained in a QR code is inaccessible to humans, and its not a good idea to hide a message in a QR code unless the whole idea is to make a scavenger hunt or something like that. keep the QR codes around to quickly pass information to computers, and duplicate the information in human readable, or AR formats.

  • http://www.QrArts.com Patrick

    But isnt the difference that once you have the opener ( the Qr Scanning app ) , that you always have it. Its not like a physical device where you have to have the tool each time.

    The first time may be rough, but after that, you are good to go.

    Patrick Donnelly, http://www.qrarts.com

    Ps. Where is the AR reference in this article. It seems to only be in the comments.

  • http://www.barcoderealty.com Stu Fleishman

    One thing to be careful not to overlook is the INTENDED functionality of the QR codes vs. Augmented Reality in terms of business / revenue.

    You see, both of these options are merely Access Points to reach mobile content generated by the business.

    From my limited experience with AR and more significant experience with QR, I would say that AR is intended to provide inch deep mile wide marketing. Hold your phone up so your view finder shows the next couple blocks of street you see limited information. This information includes about the hours for a lunch time special, or which dry cleaners speaks English. It does not provide GPS directions to other branches, an interactive menu, or sizes available, or estimated wait time. It’s mostly static information about the location.

    Yes, this is marketing in a sense, but it is less driven by any individual store, but more by the AR aggregator trying to show an accurate depiction of options for food or shopping.

    The QR Codes are generally more focused on a given business. My firm, Barcode Realty, designs interactive mobile content which can be linked to a QR code, or a mobile website, or a webapp for the Real Estate Industry. Although this interactive, searchable information could be linked to Augmented Reality, it would pull the user out of the AR world to a greater depth of marketing, lead capture, and branding.

    In any case, this is my interpretation of QR and AR are both important technological solutions, with different, distinct purposes.


  • http://atomicgreetings.com Stan Timek

    As you said, QR codes are hot right now and gaining steam. Augmented reality is on a similar trajectory. At Atomic Greetings we’ve combined these two technologies to make something that no one else has done. Our patent-pending system allows people to send personal video messages ‘inside’ greeting cards. When we use our system for marketing solutions we can track message views to your individual mailing list recipients.

    For the consumer, keeping track of videos is a hassle. In-boxes are almost always a mess and hard drive organization is not more peoples strong suit. But ask someone where that special greeting card is and they can find in seconds flat! With our technology you can send a video to someone (baby’s first steps, your expression of never-ending love) in a greeting card that will be stored safely in a dresser drawer, shoebox, etc. The video can be watched over and over again – whenever you want.

    For businesses the power of video to inform, convince, to sell is unquestionable. Augmented reality ensures that your message will be viewed multiple times as people as entranced by our system. The result? Your message is heard and you are more successful… win, win!

    Check us out at http:atomicgreetings.com

  • http://arwave.org Thomas Wrobel

    “No dependence on an Internet connection. ”

    Doesn’t your universal translator software need an internet connection?

    Also, while its not really a “standard” as sich, many QR codes are just a URL, software such as GoogleGoggles (which also translates) can interpret those ones just fine, so you don’t need special software or instructions all the time.

    While I think in many case’s QR codes can be replaced with image recognition, you gota remember one quite vital advantage they have; The look-up information is encoded within the image itself.

    With other forms of image recognition your comparing the real life to a database of images to get your data out – a significant bigger step in bandwidth &/or cpu power. (as well as said database needing to exist and be accessible).
    Thus I think QR codes will stay for the same reason bar-codes have stayed, as they are a convient way to store a small amount of data and send it to a machine without having to type.

  • http://www.youscan.me YouScan.me


    we believe that QR codes will make the connection between offline and online worlds easier. That’s why we created our QR code generator with social features – YouScan.me. You can add all your info like Facebook profile or fan page, twitter, youtube, etc. and connect with others.


  • http://eduhowto.wordpress.com/ Mike

    Right now I see these as similar but used in different applications. Merging them in the future I would agree will probably be what happens in the future.

  • http://bcccouponcode.onsugar.com V&D vouchercode

    various people currently have a frequent shopper card that keeps track of how much they spent and often exactly what they spent it on. The coupon program on the cell phone may very well be extended in order that it could put the coupon straight into the account tied towards the frequent shopper card. Then, if you visit the checkout lane and scan your card, the discounts can be automatically applied!

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