2D Barcode Adoption Falsehoods

In one article or trend report after another, two reasons are often used to explain why consumers might be slow to accept, and ultimately adopt, 2D barcode technology. The first reason has to do with the fact that there is no universal 2D barcode reader app, and the second reason has to do with the fact that a 2D barcode reader app must be downloaded in order for a code to be scanned. Here's why neither of these reasons hold much water (in my opinion).

First, in a recent study by The Neilsen Company, Apple iOS users had an average of 48 apps on their mobile device and Android users had an average of 35 apps on their mobile device. Of the 48 and 35 apps, respectively, I would wager that consumers have more than one app for news, more than one app for finance, more than one app for games, more than one app for social networking, more than one app for entertainment, travel, dining, etc., etc., so, why should it matter that there is no one (i.e., universal) 2D barcode reader app? To scan the vast majority of 2D barcodes in today's marketplace, all a consumer needs is a QR Code reader app and a Microsoft Tag reader app. Two apps out of 25, 30, 35, 40, etc., what's the big deal? If, however, the argument is that without a universal code reader app consumers would not know which app to use to scan a particular code and then they would simply not bother scanning, then I believe the real issue is with the advertisers. Advertisers should, as best practice, inform consumers which reader app is needed to scan the code used in their ads. At this early stage in the game, where codes are just starting to enter the mainstream, consumers should not have to figure out or guess which app to use on their own. Advertisers need to step up in this area.

Second, last I checked, a consumer needed to search, locate and download the app for Facebook, The New York Times, ESPN, Fandango or any other application that they were interested in prior to use so, why should it be any different for 2D barcodes? Yes, the process of searching, locating and downloading an app may be a hassle but, here too, if the advertiser is able to help the consumer the hassle becomes less so. Also, once the app is loaded the job is done. It's not as if this is a recurring issue or problem to contend with each and every time a consumer wishes to scan a code.

So much of 2D and mobile is based on the consumer/user experience, and advertisers must understand this and be willing to take the lead here, or else 2D barcode adoption will most certainly suffer. Let's not get lazy and blame it on the code reader apps or, even worse, the consumer.


  1. AnonymousMay 31, 2011

    As well, there is a disconnect between the excuses people fabricate to explain away problems with user adoption in contrast to the weekly hype about how many zillion-times more scans and codes are taking place this week compared to last.

    Which is it? Using an argument that's a year-old to explain a problem? Or,there is no problem?

    Or, there is a problem, but, it's not last-year's problem? It's this year's problem.

    Namely, QR codes are leading to a vast majority of dull, dry or irrelevant mobile experiences.

    Why hasn't there been one amazing campaign in the past Year that has driven millions of Reader downloads and scans? Wouldn't that solve the problem on all fronts?

  2. Anonymous: Great question...too bad I don't have the answer. Any brand or agency care to chime in?

  3. IN the UK, no one I have shown the QR code to knows what it is! When I do, they are amazed at the 'gimmick'.

    I agree with anonymous above. Until the QR code leads to something more exciting than a non mobile optimised website or a piece of text that does could more easily be read on a ticket than scanned and read off a mobile, then it won't go anywhere fast and will remain a gimmick.

    We must remember that whatever the QR code leads to, the user will have a mobile in one hand, and so they must be able to do the activity one handed!

  4. AnonymousJune 06, 2011

    True enough but users on smartphones truly have short attention spans. We all do and we have to. Think of how much time is spent on a page on a phone VS. page on a computer. It's tough to invest a lot of money in something that can potentially give very little back in return. I mean the demographic of QR code users is much lower than computer users or magazine readers. Everybody has a smartphone but definitely many people don't utilize scanning a barcode, myself included.

    If you make something for the phone, it has to be quick and immediately effective. If you don't, you immediately fail. And due to the limitations of what is viewable on a smartphone in terms of HTML5 and CSS3. There isn't a great amount of things that can be done and done well in smaller width spaces. Plus all smartphones have extremely narrow bandwidth so your "campaign" needs to be small in file size which makes it hard to be something exquisite and palatable to media-hungry audience.

    QR codes have reigned supreme in Asia for a long time and they are usually never about an awesome mobile experience. They are just devices to get that information to the user as quick as possible. Unfortunate but true.