Are QR Codes Ready for Their Close-Up?

QR codes are still waiting for their break-out moment. But the 2D barcodes, which trigger URLs or information when scanned, continue to gather quiet momentum that could finally tap into the potential of the technology.

A recent batch of news on QR codes ties in some well-known companies and makes the process of scanning and creating codes a little more relevant and useful for users. We may be still a ways off from Japan-like QR code adoption, where it’s a mainstream tool, but the pieces are slowly falling into place. Here’s a look at some of the latest developments:

  • Today, Big in Japan, the company behind the ShopSavvy barcode scanner app, announced Ford (s f), Gold’s Gym and the Washington Metro are testing QR codes through the Scan with ShopSavvy program. The program allows companies to brand their QR codes with ShopSavvy’s name so ShopSavvy’s 6.5 million users  know they can use their scanner app to read the code. That should raise awareness about the codes and help people understand what to do with them, which is a major problem.
  • Last week, eBay-owned (s ebay) RedLaser added support for QR code scanning, bringing the function to its mobile app, which has been downloaded 5 million times. RedLaser is best known for enabling people to pull up information on products by allowing them to scan their barcodes. The new QR code feature can also be implemented by dozens of developers who are using RedLaser’s latest SDK to integrate scanning into their apps. With its large following, RedLaser should cause more people to scan the codes to extract not just product information, but all kinds of online data.
  • Earlier this month, online social stationery printing service Paperspring launched Paperlinks, which allows users to order invitations, cards and announcements that include QR codes, that can link back to a custom site with photos, videos and event information. This may not appeal to everyone, but it shows how traditional print products can incorporate QR codes.
  • Last month, Google (s goog) formally released its URL shortener, which included the ability to create QR codes by adding “.qr” to the end of a shortened URL. followed up last week with a similar feature, allowing users to create QR codes that lead back to a link. Google has already been pushing the codes as a way to download Android apps. It also launched Favorite Places on Google, which involved distributing 100,000 QR code stickers to local businesses. The shortener tools are a simple way to make QR codes and could help ease adoption, by making people not just scanners but creators of QR codes.
  • In August, Spanish mobile marketing company Macanudos showed off the ability to create QR codes that trigger a Facebook “like” for an object or a place. The codes could be placed on stickers, posters or in print. This is more of a marketing play for businesses, but it shows some of power of QR codes to bridge the physical and the online worlds.

This still isn’t a definitive turning point for QR codes, which have been waiting for their time to shine for a while now and will likely take a while to mature. But the technology is coming together to create awareness around something that’s been rarely used outside of early adopters. The process of scanning is actually quite easy; it’s just we haven’t had many reasons to use them on QR codes. With these latest announcements, we may see the light at the end of this tunnel.

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