QR Code Competition

 In 201

Yes Virginia, QR Code is not the only game in town. There is competition. This article will attempt the impossible: to briefly discuss what’s out there and how they differ. And differ they do—these are not just nuanced differences. There are huge differences in application, although they are all similar in functionality.

QR Code and competitors all do pretty much the same thing–in very different ways

Let’s start with commonality. QR Code and its competitors all do pretty much the same thing. They encode a uniform resource locator (url) that calls up a web page designed for a smart phone. The web page can be static text or a video clip or a coupon, or pretty much anything that can be digitized.

Scanning a tag can utilize a mobile phone’s geo-location (GPS) capability so the tag can direct you to near-by restaurants or other venues of interest, and offers can be linked to time such as lunch deals or event tickets, etc.

Microsoft Tag is arguably the largest QR Code competitor, but unlike QR Code it is not public domain which means it only works with a Microsoft reader. Unlike QR Code, the Microsoft Tag cannot be visually “branded” to each user—you have to read the offer or proposition to understand what the tag represents.

Pre-press involves adding a tag to an image that describes the offer to the smart phone user—a deal on a sandwich, a gallery event, a time-limited coupon. Pre-press requires prior planning and involves some risk: code-jacking is when a printed QR poster is “stolen” with a digital camera and re-marked with a different tag, redirecting customers to a competitive vendor.

Digital watermark solves one of these problems. It does require pre-press to add digital information, invisible to the user, to an otherwise unmolested image; even if a code jacker knew where it was, it would be nearly impossible to replace it with an alternative message.

QR Code is a physical presence

On the other hand, a tag is a physical, visual presence—it tells the user there is something there beyond just the image of a product, an event or an experience. It makes the user aware and curious.

This brings us to two very different competitors to the tag. The first is Augmented Reality. You may have seen this in television ads. The user holds up her smart phone as if to take a picture of a street scene, and the GPS function overlays an image of nearby opportunities—a dinner deal at a local restaurant, a book signing at a nearby coffee house. Local and timely—but without a tag, how do you know there’s something there?

Near Field Communication or NFC is another technology considered to be a Q Code competitor. This is where you use a smart phone to transact a purchase with a vending machine, buy a ride on a public bus or train, unlock a hotel room door, etc.  But without a tag telling you the technology is present, the user is virtually blind.

Another rapidly emerging technology is Intelligent Print Recognition or iPR. Here an entire image has been digitized: a picture of a bottle of wine, a movie poster, a scene from a sports event. There is no tag so no pre-press—any printed image can be digitized and made “intelligent”, and no tag means no code jacking.

But this raises a host of legal issues, so iPR is not a public domain technology. Users are licensed, it incurs monthly fees and per-scan charges—and with no visual tag, how do you know if an image is “intelligent”?

QR Code competitors: what should I use now?

Does QR Code have competition? Well, yes and no.

Don’t believe anybody that tells you QR Code is dead—it does something many of the newer technologies doesn’t and can’t, and vice versa. Is there room for all of these, and the many others we still haven’t seen yet? Time will tell, and it will not stand still.

Build your business now with the tools that are available now but don’t be wedded to them. Do what works; watch and learn. Just like always.





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