I saw an article the other day about Microsoft officially putting end-of-life to their Microsoft TAG QR project (read that article on Endgadget). It really made me think. QR codes were a cool idea, right? New little bar-code-esque images that could be scanned by a multitude of devices and either deliver information immediately or transport the user to a map or website or other cool stuff instantly.
What’s not to like, right?
With a scanner app on your phone, you had George Orwell in your pocket — all the power of Big Brother to scan and deliver inside info, reduced and democratized into the pockets of the masses.
You remember that time for Thanksgiving dinner when crazy Aunt Mary brought her marinated tofu tapenade for the family buffet to counter the other animal exploiting capitalist fare served on the obviously xenophobic holiday?
Microsoft TAG — may it rest in techno-peace — was the tofu tapenade of QR codes; no one wanted it — not even the dog — and the leftovers will serve no purpose but landfill fodder. But … I digress.
But there are QR codes other than Microsoft TAG, right?
There are tons of QR and barcode generators and readers out there — I like Red Laser’s app for the iPhone. I have used it to instantly compare prices and find product reviews, so it has saved me a little time and money.
I like it.
These products have found some users and niches like this, but I have come to believe that the lackluster adoption of QR codes actually represents its peak. And I think that, in the long term, barcodes will also fade away. Here’s why.
Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto
I think that QR codes, and eventually barcodes, are doomed. Remember that we needed them because machines were kind of stupid. Barcodes and QR codes are really an interface between reality and the world of machines. They are the Matrix Red Pill of technology that allows deaf, blind, and dumb machines to “see” in the real world and correctly identify things to either get information, provide information, or help you to buy stuff.
- Apps like Shazam and SoundHound can literally listen to music and identify the song; then tell you about that song, show you the lyrics, and even allow you to purchase it on iTunes. A potential customer can be linked from hearing a song for the very first time, to deciding they like it, to purchasing it — all in seconds.
- Drync can scan a wine label's "art side" and tell you all about the wine, including where to purchase it for the best price.
- The LinkedIn app does a great job of scanning business cards and then finding the owner of that card online, entering the information into your contacts, and letting you establish a virtual connection.
- Sophisticated facial recognition software can pick out individual human faces from a crowd, through disguises, in ways more accurate than most actual humans can.
- Siri can listen (meh) and deliver what you ask for, more often than not (mostly … give her a break, she’s trying).
- Augmented reality apps (Layers, etc.) access your location and mobile camera to tell you about all kinds of things that exist around you — bars, restaurants, stores … everything.
- Some mapping apps let you photo-scan a landmark — building, bridge, mountain, etc. — and then tell you all about it.
And if sight and sound fail them, there is RFID to pick up the slack in the edge cases.
The point is that machines are getting to the point where they can better sense the real world. They no longer need an interface between the world of machines and the world of men. While we were busy staring into those four-inch retina displays, the machines have been getting smarter. They’ve started to stare back, recognizing what they see for the first time.
OK … that’s a little creepy, right? Sounds a bit too much like the plot of a SciFi horror film, so try not to think about that right now.
The Code is Moot
But my conclusion is that QR codes — and ultimately bar codes — are the overpaid middlemen of the digital world. They are inefficiencies masking as friendly car lot salesmen that have outlived the need they were designed to fulfill. The machines no longer need an interface. The end is near ... resistance is futile.