qr codes usiPhone, Android Developers Race to Bring Highly Anticipated Technology to Masses.

While we here at mobilestance prefer to poke fun at market predictions rather than make them, we’ve decided to go out on a limb and draw a big ol’ line in the sand: 2008 will be the year that QR codes become viable in the US, thanks largely to the efforts of Apple and Google.

While recent efforts by Scanbuy, Discovery Communications and Citysearch have been impressive in terms of ambition and overall scale, they were nevertheless hamstrung by two significant flaws: (1) they’ve relied on a non-standard, proprietary code format, and (2) nearly all participants were required to download a java app via SMS prior to engagement – a tall order if you’re activating an OOH general market ad campaign. That said, in either an odd coincidence or boldfaced market collusion (kidding), both Google (directly) or Apple (indirectly) have taken the necessary steps to breakdown both of these barriers… the results of which will begin to take affect in and around the third quarter of this year.

To date Apple’s efforts have been uncharacteristically hands off, although this could quickly change in the next iPhone firmware release. Specifically, Apple has created a near perfect platform for a QR reader: a high-quality handset inclusive of a (good enough) two megapixel camera, a publicly available SDK, a bullet-proof distribution model in the iTunes App store (expected this June), and most importantly, a highly-attractive, early-adopting, data-hungry user base.

All of which makes for extremely fertile ground for the (third party) development of an iPhone QR reader, and develop they have. Even without a user-friendly distribution model in place, developers have been busy porting their existing QR readers for use on the iPhone. iMatrix has already developed an iPhone version of it’s dual use (proprietary shotcode + EZcode / standard QR / Datamatrix) reader, and no doubt many more will follow. The iMatrix reader utilizes the iPhone SDK’s relatively robust API set to not only launch web URLs and initiate messaging and voice call events, but can also “add contacts to your Address Book, add events to Calendar [and] add new notes to Notes.” Until the iTunes App store is online the only way to install the reader is a via a fairly manual process (and only on unlocked handsets), but it won’t be long before the average user can easily download and install the reader via what is sure to be a dummy-proof, Apple-branded experience.

Compared to Apple’s laissez faire attitude towards QR, Google has been far more proactive. In addition to make sure that every Android phone will include a non-proprietary reader preloaded as part of the standard application set, Google is also championing an open-source J2ME reader project dubbed “ZXing” (which supposedly stands for “Zebra Crossing”). Not only is Google helping the app’s development in terms of hosting / distribution, it has also been actively recruiting developers to help with the project (I witnessed this first hand at the Nokia Barcamp in New York last November, when Google’s Sean Owen led a packed house through a four-minute ZXing presentation that abruptly ended with a pitch to java developers to aid in its development).

So which will have greater impact on the market? Well, while Google’s approach has the advantage of having the reader app reloaded onto the handset, Apple has the (short term) advantage of actually having handsets on the market! Also, (as stated earlier) Apple could always add a reader app to the next firmware release and instantly increase the size of the US QR-reader install base by a factor of twenty or so. This scenario is not (purely) speculation, as Apple has been known to “pull a Microsoft” and co-opt a particularly useful software app or two… all in the name of “user experience.” Watson, anyone?

More to the point, the reason all of this is so interesting is because of the perfect intersection between technology and lifestyle. Start with the iPhone user base (mobile-dataphilic, upscale, big spending, early-adopting, Gladwell-style alpha-influencers), then add what we can assume to be first Android buyers (ubergeeks, tinkerers, mavericks and malcontents – i.e. current Linux users) and you’ve got the perfect launching pad for a QR movement – and not just any old QR movement, but one of the advertiser-friendly / “interesting to Sandhill road” variety.

Proof of concept video, iPhone QR reader, below:

Achung! Clip is punctuated with annoying whistling, nauseating camera movement and a few failed demos to boot!

10 Responses to “Stars Align for QR Codes in US, as Apple, Google Push Market Forward”

  1. #1 Dan says:

    Good insight here Jamie. It’s been a long time coming and I’m inclined to agree with your assessment. I’ve long lamented the slow adoption of this medium in the US. The “add to address book” example makes tons of sense and there’s so much more that can be done.

    We’ve been thinking about how to use QR codes with our automotive clients for some time now, but could never make a compelling case for it given the low penetration rate.

  2. #2 Stan Wiechers says:

    hey,

    check out the itunes + qr code app at

    http://www.tracklets.com.

    i just uploaded some pictures as well to my flickr stream,

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/whoisstan/2452294959/in/photostream/

    we are trying to tag now all these album release posters with those stickers to show what the future will bring.

    best,
    stan

  3. #3 Roger says:

    We have to keep in mind that Japan took over five years to gain 50% penetration of QR Code usage. It may well be faster here but as others have pointed out there are still a few obstacles in the way.

  4. #4 Sean Owen says:

    Aw, has nobody noticed we’re doing our darndest to make an iPhone client too?
    http://code.google.com/p/zxing/source/browse/trunk/iphone/ZXing/?r=376
    Watch this space.

  5. #5 jamie wells says:

    Thanks for the heads up on ZXing for iPhone, Sean!

  6. #6 msearchgroove » Blog Archive » BEST & BRIGHTEST: The Carnival Of Mobilists #122 at Xellular Identity; Mobile For The Masses, Open Source Hyperlocal Messaging & All About Blyk says:

    [...] to Jamie Wells at Mobistance for providing a comprehensive update on QR codes and divining the ambitions of Google and Apple in this space. It’s a confusing market and [...]

  7. #7 QR - Is it the Barcode of the Future? « Loftware says:

    [...] an advertising revenue and is also championing an open-source J2ME reader project dubbed ZXing. Mobilstance.com boldly states “the reason all of this is so interesting is because of the perfect [...]

  8. #8 jason says:

    Wow, the performance of the iPhone barcode readers are extremely poor. Take snapshot, wait n seconds for it to decode, and most likely get a “try again” message. Not to mention that the barcode must be huge to be readable… *sigh*

  9. #9 Sean Owen says:

    Yes, we see that too. The client we produced takes about 8 seconds to even get the photo. It is because the image that is captured is large, and must be first serialized to memory. From some informal talks with Apple engineers it seems like this is not the behavior intended long-term, possibly just all they had time for. We’ve filed enhancement requests with them, so they are at least aware that this prevents some applications from meaningfully using the camera.

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