Sunday, November 18, 2007

All the News (and QR Codes) That's Fit to Print

Today marks a watershed in QR Code history. There's a QR Code in the New York Times, as part of a Blue Nile ad.

Now, the QR Code has been around for years, of course, and is fabulously popular in Japan (where it was invented by Denso Wave - who made the technology freely available, but still own the trademark). Something like 50% of the installed base of cell phones in Japan can read the QR Code, and it shows up on bus schedules, magazine ads, McDonald's wrappers - even the sides of buildings. Scanning barcodes has been tried a lot in the US (this blog has a good history), but as of yet, there's not been much traction. The main stumbling block has been the tight control that cell phone operators maintain over the handset design and applications.

Now it looks like things may be changing. Nokia has launched a couple of (high end) handsets that work in the US and can read barcodes, as well as a microsite devoted to barcode reading. Even more significantly, the NY Times ad the first sign that Google is dipping a toe in the water. It makes good sense - now Google can detect whether someone responded to an Ad posted in 'dead tree' media. A model like AdWords is conceivable - the advertiser pays one amount to publish the ad, then again every time someone clicks on the QR Code. There's a long way before QR reader adoption reaches critical mass in the US - but Google's GPhone will likely support development of QR Code readers (to enhance the value of the ads). Maybe the next gen iPhone will sport a macro lens and barcode reader too? (that's just wishful thinking, of course).

As a cautionary note, let us not forget the hapless CueCat ... but the difference now is this uses a cell phone, not a cat-shaped barcode reader.

(In case you're wondering - the QR Code conbtains: