... a stepping stone.
(This blog is in response to Michael Yoder's question on Linkedin "Finish this sentence: I think QR codes are..." )
QR codes are underutilized, but that's not the first thing I think of when I see one. My first thought is how I have to take out my phone, find the app to read it with (which, luckily, starts with a "B", so it's easy to find in my app drawer), and then hold my phone at just the right spot while remaining still long enough for it to clearly see whatever magic the code holds.
There is also that moment, just as I notice the QR code, when I can feel the tension emanating from my wife as she notices my interest. This is followed by rolling her eyes at my compulsive curiosity of all things tech. She finally signals her acceptance of my twitchy techie thumb's fate, to appear from my pants pocket with phone in tow, by presenting the QR code to me with a frustrated, Vanna White wave around the matrix puzzle piece.
The ironic thing is, QR stands for Quick Response. I disagree with that, and if my wife was co-authoring this post, she'd strongly disagree with that too (of course you might have to show her one, so she would know what we're talking about, but that's beside the point).
QR codes have grown beyond the commonly associated use of looking up a web page, they have evolved into entirely new ways of quickly sharing information. Ever try to share a contact from your phone? You could use bluetooth, email, text, or any number of apps, but what about a QR code? Better yet, what about a QR code on your business card? You can't hand someone a business card and bluetooth, email, or send a text with the contact information from it (normally), but they could scan a code.
What about sharing your home wifi network with guests? You could tell them your SSID, encryption type, and password, then hope for the best, or use a QR code and a simple app to that can have your grandma checking everyone's Facebook status in seconds (zxing and Google also offer this ability, which you can try here).
Still not convinced? How about flashcards you can't cheat at? The ability to create calendar events for people and give them the location for it? Promote yourself by getting people to visit your Linkedin/Linkedup site. Add it to your signature to allow people to quickly add you to their contacts. What about a scavenger hunt created with QR codes to ensure no cheating?
You can quickly create QR codes here, or do a quick internet search to find one that offers more features. You can also use the goo.gl url shortener to create a QR code of any web page by first shortening it, and then viewing the details for the link (you can also use the goo.gl extension in chrome).
After all this, you might be asking what I meant by answering the initial question with "a stepping stone." With all the advantages of QR codes you'd think I was singing their praises, but the truth is, they're still clunky. You still need to open the app and to wait for all the stars to align while the camera tries to focus on the code. What if you could initialize everything with the wave of your phone, or more appropriately, a tap? That's the goal of Near Field Communication (NFC).
NFC allows communication between two devices easily, with just a tap. If you want to know what Google has in store for their vision of NFC--a product called Google Wallet--check out the video below. Actual footage of the product in use can be seen here. And you can apply for Google Wallet here. If you've ever used the iPhone or Android application Bump, you have an idea of how it behaves. The difference is it doesn't route your information through the cloud looking for the corresponding phone (hence the Near Field part) and is secure enough to use with your credit cards.
In the future you'll be able to send offers to your phone and use them at the register with the same application you use to pay for it with. You'll be able to stop carting around loyalty cards, or a separate loyalty application, as that will all be taken care of in the cloud the moment you tap to pay. Tap a movie poster to find showtime nearby and buy tickets from miles away. Transfer contact information with the tap of two phones. You could even "Like" or "+1" something with a quick tap. These are just a few examples of what can be done, and the list continues to grow as NFC gains more and more traction in the US.
QR codes are underutilized, but they pulling out a padded chair and helping people slowly become comfortable with gathering information in a new way. A QR code is easier then typing on your phone or tablet, so even it's small annoyances seem more of a godsend then as a hassle. Make QR codes even simpler, more secure, and easier, and you've got NFC.