Why QR Codes Are Perfect For The Internet of Things

My first QR code post of 2013!

I'm a long term fan of QR codes. I know some people don't like the idea of augmenting reality with specific tags for computer vision - but I do. Some people prefer RFID/NFC. Others still prefer dedicated augmented video apps.

As I've written many times before, QR codes have several substantial advantages over alternate technologies.

  • QR is a free and open standard.
  • Compatible with every phone with a camera.
  • No need to build or use a dedicated app.
  • Free to generate.

Today, in the canteen, I think I have found the quintessential example of just how radical the open simplicity of QR codes is.
Salt and Pepper QR Codes

Tiny sachets of salt an pepper. Created in their millions. Given away for free the world over. Each stamped with a unique ID which can be recognised easily by a computer.

For scale, this is how small they are.
Pepper pack with QR code

Now, I'll be the first to admit that a website about salt is not the most riveting thing in the world. But that's exactly the point!
Salt Website The costs associated with setting this up are close to zero. Amortized over every sachet it's probably less than the cost of a grain of salt.

There's no opportunity cost lost - what else could you stick on the side of a packet that small?

I like the fact that I can instantly see nutritional information and can certainly see it being more useful on larger items. But, again, that's the point. QR codes are free - so you might as well stick them on everything.

It's this dual freedom - free to generate and free to print - which makes QR codes ubiquitous.

The main problem with NFC (aside from lack of readers, inability for a user to tell a tag is present, proximity needed, etc) is cost. Even bought in bulk, those little RFID chips have a price. Buying 20,000 of them to stick on salt packets is an extravagance an unlikely to see any ROI to offset the cost of buying the chips and changing the manufacturing process to incorporate them. Not to mention that the chips can't be recycled easily.

QR Codes? Black ink. If you're already printing onto a surface, QR codes don't require any retooling or any equipment purchases.

I know that in our modern world we often strive for technical excellence, innovation, and quality. However, where there are two relatively compatible technologies, it is usually the cheaper technology which wins.

In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker's Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects. First, it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words "DON'T PANIC" inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.
—Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Internet of Things will be powered - in part - by QR codes. Try not to get too upset about it.

2 thoughts on “Why QR Codes Are Perfect For The Internet of Things

  1. Agree with everything in this post except the belief that there will only be one winner. There's surely room for both NFC _and_ QR. A case in point: I recently saw a bottle of Camp Coffee in Morrisons. How that older "standard" has survived is beyond me. But it has.

  2. The QR code is set to be the "cassette tape" of accessing information in my opinion. NFC or another-thing-yet-to-come may become the best way of telling my "hitchhikers guide" which bit of the "Deep Thought" database it needs to access via a higgs boson hyperspace wormhole...... but when that doesn't work, or isn't supported by system XX, or it has been superseded by upgrade EEE .... then it will be the QR code that still works. By all means build your stuff to handle NFC (we are) - but one of the problems with NFC is that there is no symbol of where to swipe it. I think our users will work out that the NFC chip is behind the QR code. Because despite the predictions .... your average Jo knows what a QR code is for.

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