Type, Scan, Swipe

If you’ve been around WIC, you’ve probably noticed that we use QR codes on a lot of our flyers and handouts.  QR codes have been around for a little while, but haven’t gained a huge amount of traction.  They’ve recently started to grow in popularity, both in libraries and elsewhere, but they haven’t reached the ubiquity necessary for people to start expecting them.  Part of that is likely due to the fact that, while the smartphone market is growing quickly, it’s not universal yet.  Not every product or service has users that have smartphones, and so they don’t need to create QR codes.

I like QR codes because they let you jump right into whatever you’re interested in.  That’s a huge improvement over the old method of having to write down or take a picture of the address you’re interested in and then go to it later, once you’re at a computer.  This itself is an improvement over the positively archaic practice of having to call a phone number or even physically go somewhere to find out more about something you’re curious about.  However, even though QR codes are much more convenient, they’re also not quite convenient enough.  In this case, I think the problems revolve more around the readers than the codes themselves.  While you only need a smartphone to read a code, you also need to pull that phone out, unlock it, open your photo app, hold your camera over a specific place, and then wait on your network to load the page, and hope that page is a mobile page(ours is!), or at least has a mobile theme.

Maybe the modern world has made me too demanding, but that process annoys me, even though I do it fairly often.  Luckily for my lack of patience, it seems as though there’s a new system on the horizon: NFC, or Near Field Communication.  That Wikipedia page will give you an idea of some of the potential of NFC.  Most of the work on NFC right now is focused on using it for payments, but I think that once it spreads, it will replace QR codes as well.  NFC eliminates all the annoyance of QR codes, and even improves on what QR codes deliver.  You don’t have to unlock or open your phone, much less start an app and aim your camera at a specific place.  You just swipe your phone near a reader and it transmits instructions wirelessly and passively.  It can instruct your phone to open a website, or have it enter a note that you can read later, and all you have to do is look at it when you’re ready to.

Of course it will take some time before this finally happens.  QR codes leveraged a universal technology in phone cameras, while NFC requires a specific chip to be built into a phone when it’s created.  Manufacturers are starting to build NFC-capable phones, and different organizations are starting to support NFC, but it’s still a young technology.  People will need to replace their phone to use it and companies will need to adopt the technology to provide points of service, but the convenience of the process makes it an attractive one.  I think enough people will want the ease of swiping your phone to get things done to ensure that NFC will grow very quickly.  The technology already has Google behind it, and that’s a powerful supporter.  While their main focus is currently GoogleWallet, if they can push NFC into enough places, we’ll all be able to benefit from that infrastructure when different companies use it for different reasons.

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