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QRWTF

2012-03-16

So let’s talk about the weird hating on QR codes thing that’s going on.

As a former (and future(!) (just not this year (sigh))) Mac software developer, I tend to end up on a lot of Mac-related websites when out traversing the tubes.

Via these sites, I’ve gradually become aware me of a strange memetic condition that seems to be metastasizing to various organs of the macosphere: “Dude, QR codes are like, lame-o robot barf, dude.” (I think the epidemiology of this outbreak of hateritus probably goes back to a mass googallergenic reaction to the QR code that was printed on the back of the original Nexus One, but that’s speculation.)

At any rate, I was reminded of this while shirking some boring responsibilities and plowing through my RSS feeds earlier today. I came across this opinion from Brent Simmons, on his inessential blog:

Here’s the thing about the CueCat: it wasn’t that the hardware sucked, it’s that people aren’t going to scan things to go to a web page And yet now we have QR codes, which we’re laughing at, and which will disappear like an American Idol contestant.

I like Brent (everybody likes Brent), but I think he’s wrong on this one. (And, judging from the hilarious wtfqrcodes.com, perhaps America as a whole is doing QR codes wrong.)

I don’t think QR codes are going away, nor would I want them to.

Because here’s the thing: QR codes are simple and great.

/stuff/qr-code.png

Originally for Toyota to track vehicles throughout the manufacturing process, they were popularized (in Japan, years ago) for the purpose of avoiding having to type shit into your phone on its dinky and shitty little keypad.

And they’ve been working great for years and years, here in Japan; long before the iPhone existed – before ‘smartphone’ was even a thing, really – pretty much every phone in Japan could point its camera at a QR code and bookmark the URL. (Virtually always a URL, though QR codes can carry an arbitrary text payload.)

So I’d say that it was the CueCat hardware that sucked. Or rather, the concept of needing special hardware to scan URLs sucks. But when it can be done easily with the one generic piece of hardware that everybody carries with them all the time, I think that a 2-second barcode scan beats fucking around with a dinky little keyboard hands down.

Yes, yes, QR codes are for machines, not humans. But machines are for serving humans. So I don’t see an inherent problem. Just like with karaoke, maybe Americans are discovering the QR code a decade late and aren’t good at it. Plastering your promo – or your clothing for fuck’s sake – with QR codes doesn’t make you look like a hip high-tech badass the way some seem to think it does. But blaming the harmless and useful QR code for that is like blaming the colors green and pink for this guy.

/stuff/scan.app.jpg

One of the quirky deficiencies of the iPhone is that it’s the only phone I know of (in Japan) that doesn’t grok QR codes out of the box. A plethora of QR code scanning apps are available for iOS (most of them insufferably shitty and ad-ridden, of course). The app I use is Scan – mostly because I can easily remember its name, the three or four times per year that I actually want to bookmark a website that I see on an ad in the subway. But it’s also fast[☠], simple, and fuckery-free – much like the Quick Response Code itself.

UPDATE 2012-03-16: Horf tells me that many US or Korean Android phones sold in Japan also tend to make you install an app to get QR code scanning functionality.


[☠] So fast that it took me five tries to take that screen shot above, because the first four times by the time I could snap the shot, it had already recognized the code and moved on to the website.

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