Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A CueCat, but even better!

Up until a few months ago, I had a clamshell cellphone. I had no idea that my phone was out of fashion until I was hanging out with my friends at a bar and I was the only person without a smartphone. My phone could take blurry pictures, and I could text with the best of them (as my phone bills would show), but my little Nokia couldn’t compete with the resplendent HTC Brilliant and IPhones that could tell me what song was playing in the bar, had 12 megapixel cameras that were better than my actual digital camera, mp3 players, and a host of apps that could drain my wallet and my time so easily.

Well, after coveting the HTC Brilliant for months, I can tell you that I still don’t own any kind of smartphone whatsoever. What can I say, those data plans are expensive! I did upgrade my phone to the LG Sentio, which is pretty nice and even has a touch screen.

One feature that smartphones can utilize that my non clamshell phone cannot is the use of the Quick Response, or QR codes.  This is a QR code, which first made an appearance in Japan and is slowly making its way to North America. Using QR codes requires downloading a mobile app (a downloadable application to run programs on a phone) that can take a picture of the QR code, read it, and send the user to the webpage that is encoded in the QR code (Wikipedia, 2011).

So what do people use QR codes for? Almost anything but it’s mainly used for marketing purposes in North America. I stumbled across this article where a small British Columbian café company takes advantage of QR codes by putting ads in trains with the code inside, and when passengers scan the code in with their camera, they can order their coffee on the website that the QR code takes them too. By the time they get off the train and into the café, their coffee is ready for them, and the passengers can run off to their next destination fully caffeinated.  There are many other examples of QR codes being used by companies to market their wares, including being plastered onto billboards or being shown in live cover versions of songs originally performed by 13 year old girls.

While growing in popularity, QR codes are in the middle of their own version of Betamax vs. VHS fight. Actually, a better comparison would be HD vs. Blu-Ray vs. neither (i.e. online streaming like Hulu or Netflix). There are other versions of codes that perform similarly to QR codes but are either cheaper or a better fit with the company using them (Glazer, 2011). Alternately, QR codes and their ilk may be gone in a few years, a fad that people of the future will consider this decade’s Pet Rock. Thus, predicting a winner in this fight between the codes may be pointless.

For the time being, QR codes should make a bigger dent in the North American collective consciousness as more companies make use of the marketing abilities that it provides. Its popularity may fade in a few years, but if I got a smart phone before then, I’d like to show off to my friends how I got my drink right when we walk in the door because I was aware of this nifty app. It’s the little victories in life.

Glazer, E. (2011, May 16). Target: Customers on the Go. Retrieved May 17, 2011, from Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704132204576285631212564952.html?mod=WSJ_Tech_LEFTTopNews
Wikipedia. (2011, May 16). QR Codes. Retrieved May 17, 2011, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_code

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