Will Augmented Reality spell the end of the QR code?2012-06-12
In the season finale of the Fox TV series Touch, savant Jake grabs a smartphone (which product placement clearly shows us is an AT&T Windows phone) and launches Air Graffiti, an AT&T service which, according to the website, “allows users to place videos, photos and songs “in the air” at a physical location.” He shoots an image that his father will recognize. After he vanishes, the father (portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland) scans the activity room and finds the phone with the object already on the screen. He taps it to reveal the image to which Jake linked it, a numeral created with popcorn kernels that sets the plot in motion. The sequence played out kinda like this:
In addition to blatant product placement, it’s an example of the rapid consumerization of Augmented Reality (AR). In fact, while the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) didn’t give us much new gaming technology to get excited about, ReadWrite Enterprise reports that “it did demonstrate that AR apps are about to go mainstream—and they may spell doom for QR codes.”
AR has been around for a while. Yelp mobile apps feature Monocle, which allow you to find nearby bars and restaurants along with their ratings while using your video camera to scan the neighborhood. There are discrete apps, like one that lets you find subway stations in New York. AR browsers from Acrossair, Junaio and Layar tap into the technology for an entire menu of uses, from environmental information to live music, from tourist information to weather to employment opportunities. Google’s AR glasses have been getting a lot of buzz, even if a lot of it is steeped in skepticism.
These examples are just scratching the surface of the uses to which AR has been put.
But AR has been mostly relegated to the nerd set; most people still haven’t even heard of it. But that could change with Sony and others preparing to launch mainstream gaming functionality that makes big use of AR.
But does that really threaten the QR code?
The ReadWrite Enterprise report was released almost concurrently with a study from Scanbuy, a QR code provider, which claims it processed 13 million QR scans in the first quarter of this year, representing a 157% increase from the same period a year ago. Another study, from ScanLife, found 86% of marketers planned to use QR codes this year. (Both studies were reported by Digiday.
Here’s ReadWrite Enterprise’s rationale:
AR presents a couple of huge advantages over current print-to-Web promotional tools, like QR (Quick Response) codes. First, AR uses no print space, so you don’t have to clutter up an advertisement with an unsightly QR tag that will do nothing but baffle most users…Second—and possibly more important—you can program AR to respond to existing assets already in circulation, like a year-old movie poster, a vending machine or the Empire State Building….Augmented Reality opens up enormous real-world marketing opportunities. The first time a Coke machine seems to comes to life and offers you a deal, QR codes will seem positively quaint.
Certainly, AR will grow in popularity, but it doesn’t solve every problem QR codes do. ReadWrite Enterprise notes that AR uses no print space, which means there is no cue that information is available. A friend of mine immediately spotted the QR code on the packaging of the AC adapter on the shelf at Best Buy. Scanning it, he was instantly able to find out whether the adapter included a tip compatible with his HP laptop. It did, so he bought it.
Even if he thought to scan it for AR assets, he wouldn’t find them. AR has to tied to a fix location; it won’t work on a box that can be placed anywhere. In fact, where AR content is available in a magazine or other portable materials, you have to find the printed icon, as demonstrated in this video, which means it does use print space. In this case, I’m not sure what the advantage is over QR codes.
The simple fact is, despite the amount of contempt in which a lot of people hold QR codes, they’re on the rise, not the decline. My new HTC 4G LTE from Sprint came pre-loaded with a QR scanner, which means people won’t have to go find one, download it and install it in order to scan a code.
And QR codes are appearing in more and more places:
- Mobile Commerce Press reports that bus shelters in Toronto and Halifax are sporting QR codes between a pair of headphones so the shelter appears to be wearing the headphones, drawing attention to the codes that promote the use of chocolate milk by young athletes as part of their post-working recovery.
- Education blogger John Mikulski suggests 10 wasy to use QR codes in the classroom.
- Walmart has partnered with Procter & gamble to promote online and mobile shopping in New York City with a truck covered in QR codes visiting popular locations in the Fashion District, Union Square Park and the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party. New Yorkers scanning the codes will find the products instantly added to their Walmart.com shopping cart.
- You can even get a QR code for a tombstone. Scan it to visit a mobile memorial website.
Of course, you could do some of these things with AR as well, but why? Scanning an icon is scanning an icon, and the infrastructure for creating QR codes is already widely and freely available.
Innovation is still happening on the QR front, too. Snipp Interactive is out with “QR in the Cloud,” which lets people without scanners or smartphones scan codes by taking a photo of it and sending it via MMS to get encoded content in return. Snipp’s press release says the solution “allows over 98% of the total mobile population in the United States to scan QR codes.”
Ultimately, like so many other things, QR and AR will learn to co-exist. New media don’t kill old media; old media adapt. Marketers and others will use AR where it makes the most sense or creates the greatest impact and stick with QR where it most easily addresses the problem or challenge—like linking to a list of laptops compatible with the tips in the AC adapter box.