/ Technology

QR codes – fleeting fad or future must-have?

QR code cartoon in museum

QR codes are popping up everywhere – toothpaste tubes, food packaging and even coins. The growing popularity of smartphones suggests that these codes have a bright future, but are they really that useful?

So what’s a QR code? Abbreviated from Quick Response code, it’s basically a type of barcode that when scanned with your smartphone can take you to all manner of content – mainly internet URLs. Some of you may even have been directed to this very page from a QR code in October’s Which? magazine.

Magazines and newspapers, unlike websites, are limited in space, so being able to direct readers to further information with a QR code has clear benefits. The trouble is, I only ever read papers on the Tube, which is distinctly lacking a web connection.

Some applications of QR codes seem just plain daft, like the recently struck Dutch five Euro coins and tattoos, while others seem a little bit more inventive, or at least useful.

QR code successes

One of the most effective uses of a QR code I’ve come across is on CDs or DVDs. This gives potential buyers a taste of an artist’s latest album or access to a film’s trailer while they’re browsing in store.

Others might argue that Betfair’s use of QR codes on the British female beach volleyball team’s bikinis was more effective. The campaign certainly turned a few heads – although I wonder how many people actually used their phones to scan the code.

In the CD and DVD example there’s a real benefit to the shopper, as they’re getting access to genuinely useful information to help them with their purchasing decision.

And I can think of several other examples where this would work similarly. What about nutritional information or recipe QR codes on food packaging, or QR codes in estate agent windows and car showrooms to reveal more info about potential home or car purchases?

QR code failures

But then there’s a lot of bad, or unnecessary QR code use, such as codes on cufflinks or cakes. These have an initial “how interesting” factor, which soon dies out when you realise there’s very little compulsion to want to scan these codes, especially when you have no idea where they’ll lead you.

I’ve also seen QR codes on business cards and CVs. These usually strike me as a little showy – and that’s me being polite. If the QR code on a CV was to take me to a portfolio of a person’s work, I’d much rather look at it on my laptop; not my mobile.

And I’ve yet to be convinced that TVs are a suitable medium for QR codes too. If I wanted to find out more about the person being interviewed on a chat show, I’d look it up on my laptop. If I did want to look at it on my phone, I’d be more inclined to type a URL into my phone’s web browser, rather than holding it up to the TV to scan a code.

The exception to this might be if there was exclusive supplementary content only available through the QR code, but in that instance I’d be frustrated with the producers for limiting this content from the rest of us who aren’t QR code fans.

Despite being around since 1994, I think we’re on the brink of a QR code boom. At the moment they’re too often used frivolously, but if companies can find practical uses for them, then their potential could be realised.


Perhaps a solution looking for a purpose, but I believe that this one will catch on. Not everyone enjoys typing text into a phone.


Conversely not everyone has a phone, or a smartphone, or a smartphone that can read QR codes.

My opinion is that it is just a fad to make smartphone users feel superior, after all, it’s not exactly new technology. Having worked at a prepress company, there are about 50 different types of product coding, this is just one.

My cynical side also says that this is setting people up for a nice virus…..


Facebook and Twitter were once ‘Fads’ and now all manner of companies link their offers to FB and Twitter – why? Because they can access all your friends, particularly as most people are not that savvy yet about getting security on these sites correct. There is little incentive for anyone to help in this area. I had an e-mail jusy yesterday, saying my friend had recommended I join Linkedin – he responded quickly and wrote to all his friends saying it was a join scam related to a company offering gifts, etc. in exchange for subscription for items – we all have seen these scams.

My view, therefore, is that this will be one of those that could be used to look into your accounts, address books, etc., and send these e-mails; unless the person whose account has been breached realises quickly, there will be no stopping them – another thing to look out for – it is here to stay and hopefully security software providers and Windows, etc., do something about them.



I don’t know if anybody in London has noticed, but these QR codes are popping up all over the tube. Utterly pointless.


What’s magazines & newspapers being ‘limited in space’ got to do with it? These QR codes usually take up far more space than a printed URL.

Maybe a use for these will develop but I don’t think there is one yet.


A printed URL has to be typed accurately or it will not work. A QR code eliminates the need for anyone (with a smartphone or other mobile device) to type anything.


The most useful QR code I’ve seen was the one sent to me by BA as my boarding pass. No paper, no messing – airport staff just scan the code…


Actually, those are not QR codes, but Aztec codes, which look similar but are incompatible with QR. Nevertheless, the principle is the same, and the concept works well with one’s boarding pass on a smartphone.

Graham says:
24 September 2011

I’ve used them on stations to download a timetable for my travel. Very quick and easy.ii