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Why QR codes are important to iOS 11 and China

Glenn Fleishman | June 15, 2017
A sleeper feature, QR codes have heavy use in parts of the world. Could they spread with automatic recognition in the Camera app?

Because many people take pictures of things simply to remember them, storing them in Evernote or just referring to a picture later, someone creating a poster, flyer, menu, receipt, or other visual design can just include a QR code as a bonus. With positive feedback, it can become a virtuous cycle, leading to customers asking businesses or clients telling designers to include a QR code for ease of use. (You can’t clip from QR code in the Camera app directly to Evernote—it looks like it only opens Safari, Contacts, and a few other apps directly.)

Some of the best uses of these codes I’ve seen are site-specific ones, permanently installed, often in a subtle place, near a monument or location next to text information. This lets someone scan and pull up a wealth of information.

On the advertising front, QR codes offer the benefit of tracking—yes, real-world ad trackers! While a poster can’t display a unique code for every person who views it, it can embed a source code. A point-of-sale or other device that displays codes can append tracking information. Catalogs and other mass-printed products can have laser-printed unique codes as well. While having a benefit for advertisers, it’s another privacy concern, too.

I can also see this as a widely used way to ease access to a Wi-Fi network, as Android users have already found. A cafe could make friends by posting alongside its network name and password a QR code, avoiding users having to type in a password.

I also haven’t found a way to exchange contact information that was as easy as a infrared passoff in Palm devices until now. You’ll be able to show someone your contact information on a screen, print it a brochure, or put it on the back of a business card, and it’s just as easy as you texting or emailing them your contact card. Another good bit of glue, and maybe the death knell for business-card scanning hardware.

Chinese consumers make huge use of QR codes to ease in-person payment. A consumer can scan a code from a merchant to then use a payment card in their phone or use a payment option to bring up a 2D code on screen that a merchant then scans. Walmart adopted a similar approach, which I tested last year and found surprisingly straightforward, even in one of the first days it had rolled out nationally after local tests. (The CurrentC system created by the MCX consortium of retailers trying to bypass credit-card fees had a similar, but much clunkier approach, and it failed to reach market.)

 

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