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Posted by TimH in Digital on 22nd July 2010

QR codes quietly and effectively disposed of by Google.

For a few years there I was a bit of a QR codes enthusiast, pitching it in wherever there seemed to be an opportunity.

Not any more.

The technology excited me because it seemed to offer a sorely-needed connection between people experiencing advertising in an outdoor (or out of home) environment and the digital space which would actually enable them to convert into customers - a valuable connection which would vastly improve the immediate effectiveness of outdoor advertising.

But it looks to me like QR code technology is over having barely got started, having been leapfrogged by something better, and on the iPhone you can find an example of it: Google's Goggles.

"Goggles" - bit of an crap name for such a nice piece of technology. If you're not familiar with it, it's image recognition (IR) software tied into Google's search functions, and it's built into the Google iPhone app.

It's an example of really cool technology being developed by Google that seems to get lost in the morass of really cool technology that they seem to routinely throw out.

Here's a demo video with a bloke in it to explain in more detail:

Goggles can recognise landmarks, books, DVDs, logos, artwork, text, products, and yes, barcodes. And it really does work.

I don't mean that Goggles itself will kill the need for QR codes, more that the recognition technology behind it will make the codes unnecessary, much in the same way that number recognition software on the M50 made physical tolls instantly redundant.

And although I've been known to bang on about this in client meetings, the always-present problems were

1. that people had to have the specific reader software on their phones and

2. they needed to realise what the hell they were meant to do, ie see the ugly dotty box know that they were meant to photograph it with the particular app (the alternative to which is putting instructions on the ad, urgh).

But image recognition means that the codes are redundant.

Admittedly, you do need some software on your phone, but it's increasingly likely to be shipped with the phones or embedded in other apps (eg within your Google app). And the image recognition software is so much more flexible than those which are limited to QR codes alone.

And then all the user needs to do is snap the 48 sheet/6 sheet/press ad and the software will recognise the headline or brand or campaign or URL or logo and trigger a response in the phone.

The fact that QR codes have been around for years with no sign of breaking through into mainstream advertising seems to indicate that they've hit a dead end, with lack of brand and consumer interest at the core of the problem.

There may be room for certain one-off ways to use them, but even this doesn't mean the exclusion of general IR tech which can include bar code recognition.

UPDATE Nov 15: Google video discussing how Goggles can be used for marketing:

Article here: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/offline-meet-online-marketing.html