Like all decades (with the possible exception of this one), the '90s brought good innovations (Nirvana) and bad ones (the Macarena). One of the good ones was a little square called the QR code, which promised to “revolutionize” inventory tracking and advertising and increase the value of Beanie Babies.
And then… silence. QR codes didn’t disappear completely, but outside of manufacturing uses and flyers for the “edgy” local indie band, their adoption was slow. Initially, smartphones needed a separate app to read them—and ain’t nobody got time for that.
Apple to the Rescue
iOS 11 was a gamechanger for QR codes because it was the first time you could scan them straight from the camera rather than needing another app. Some Android devices added this too, and QR crept up in popularity as airlines, concerts, and sporting venues adopted mobile ticketing. Payment platforms like Venmo got on board with clever new uses, like allowing users to scan a new contact instead of manually typing in their deets (or handing over their phone).
Our personal favorite? Pointing our phones at a QR code to automatically join the Wi-Fi network instead of trying to fat-finger our way through whatever Ninth Circle of Password Hell the coffee shop installed this week.
Don't Touch That!
And then… along came COVID. Do I want a menu? You mean the petri dish with the list of food on it? No thanks; we'll find your menu online (so you'd better have one).
But then you have to pay. Credit cards are petri dishes with magnetic stripes and paper bills are petri dishes with trace amounts of coke. Both of those are a big pandemic nope—so now, we love to just point and pay. (China’s WeChat Pay and Alipay already had millions of shoppers using QR codes every day.)
What's Up, WhatsApp?
Now WhatsApp is one of the latest to invent uses for QR codes, and in several new features rolling out for users. Augmented Reality (AR) experiences are the next big leap, allowing users to “step into” virtual stores, showrooms, and galleries where part of each virtual display is a scannable QR code that takes you straight to… wherever they want. Can you say “customer engagement?”
Now that the wildly popular Animal Crossings has gotten into the QR game… let's just say that we, for one, welcome our new QR overlords.