The QR code has risen from the ashes during the Covid-19 pandemic. But why was this innovative technology not popular before?
It’s like a surreal riddle: What do the entrances of a restaurant, a church and a dentist have in common? Strange though it is, it’s become an essential routine to our pandemic existence.
It’s been 25 years since the invention of the QR code. The idea came to its creator during a classic game of Go. The game’s checkerboard was the inspiration with it’s square-based grid. Since then it’s had a slow but effective rise to its moment of glory where it has helped slow the spread of Covid-19.
But how did this important contact-free technology avoid the discard pile along with the mini-disk and Acorn computer? We’ve looked back on its humble journey and have found 3 key failings.
With any new phone based technology, there is vast competition. A common mistake made by innovators is to expect others to see potential in their product. But without PR strategy and connection, it's unlikely to distinguish itself. How invention reaches people is as important as the technology itself. Take the microwave for example: for years it went unnoticed in scientists labs. The invention was made but was capped by an absence of vision. Fast forward years later and it’s a household essential.
In 2011 the Quick Response Code burst onto the UK scene and was gaining popularity. It boasted being able to instantly access information and help it’s users bypass several steps to get what they want.
Marketeers soon picked up on its conversion potential. We saw the black squares on billboards and hidden logos. Yet as quickly as it arrived the technology's limitations resulted in a false start.
It was a time where every big tech company on the planet was producing shiny new gadgets whilst grieving the loss of the prolific Steve Jobs. We were all watching Apple calculatedly, as it resiliently continued to show us the future in technologies.
Ground breaking though they were, the first smartphones were notoriously slow. Before 3G came along it was very difficult to use web browsers out and about because the loading time took minutes. It was only possible to scan a QR code using an app (which took up much needed phone storage when not used). It took several versions of Apple iPhones before the camera recognised QR codes. The smartphone was not ready for the QR code to really be a quick response.
QR codes have a wide scope of use that is still growing. Sending texts or emails, opening maps locations and bus timetables, directing users to leave a review or linking to social media profiles, access special offers and link to download apps are some of its uses.
But when it rose to prominence in the UK it was only used for one thing. URLs. Because of loading time this provided an ironic edge to its namesake. But the error here was that they were being used for things that didn’t benefit the process. It doesn’t take consumers long to realise when they are doing the hard work instead of the technology. We are fiends for efficiency and so when QR codes were in place of simple web addresses it’s consumers were disillusioned and lost interest.
3. Over use
As we were starting to suspect that we were using QR codes for the sake of QR codes we started to see them everywhere. Not only is it easy to use a QR code but it’s also easy to create one by using any number of free website generators. Unfortunately this resulted in an overuse by less reputable brands. Over time the humble QR code became associated with blanket advertising.
So why now?
The world has changed and its technological needs have adapted with it. The necessity of being touch free was considered but never seen as vital. The age of the QR code has arrived. And we can’t help but be a little bit proud of it’s humble journey.