December 5, 2013

QR-Code vs NFC - Which one will die a slow death ?

If you know what the image on the left is, you may well scan it using your smartphone to be led to this website's homepage automatically.
It's called a QR code (Quick Response code). These are the modern version of the BAR codes. It can contain information in text, numbers, binary, URL, etc. 
To read the information, a scanner is focused on it. It was originally developed by Toyota in 1994 to track vehicle parts in production. Nowadays we can use QR scanner apps on phones to read such codes through the phone's camera.

Numerous applications are possible with QR codes including advertising, website log in, payments and social networking. We will now see what the future holds for QR code and whether NFC will take over?

Did you know that while Apple has QR Code system integrated with their iOS devices, the popular NFC technology has not yet been integrated ?

QR codes are increasingly making their way into daily consumer products and are also to be found on packings of FMCG goods. See below image.

QR code on a special promo KitKat wrapper 

You cab easily create a QR code of your choice online for free. Just make a google search for "QR code generator". Then you may choose whether the information which is to be encoded should be a URL, some text, phone number, business card etc. Finally click generate to get the ready QR code on screen. Download it as an image to your computer. This image may later be used anywhere you wish to share the information. Like printing it on T-Shirts, printing it on business cards, embedding it on your websites or even tattooing it on yourself !

Temporary is a good option ?

Enabling a easy WiFi login is very useful when you want to share your secured WiFi access SSID and password with friends who visit your home. No hassles of entering complicated passwords !

Making a payment at a restaurant can be made easy using QR code. You just have to scan the printed bill containing QR code, that may take you to a payment portal online where you can clear the payment instantly. The restaurant may include a one time discount within that QR code as a marketing strategy. A win-win situation for both customer and provider.

Now we talk about the virtual battle between QR code and NFC. NFC is a close proximity radio communication system employed nowadays in smartphones. It basically is used to automate a task. The task is written into a NFC tag, which basically is a tiny chip with memory. Think of it as a superior and costly version of the printed QR code.

At the core, the purpose of both QR codes and NFC tags are the same. To read and then if needed perfrom a task.

But the clear advantage of NFC over QR code is it's flexibility in writing new data over and over again on the tag. Meanwhile a QR code once printed on a paper or object cannot be reused for a new purpose, thus limiting it's re-usability.

Another crucial point to be noticed is the time factor. Reading a NFC tag is faster than doing the same with a QR code. QR code readers on smartphones make use of the phones camera which are not designed specifically for such purposes, thus limiting the speed of scanning. Moreover the camera needs to be pointed correctly over the code and auto-focus feature may be required on the camera to achieve faster results. The results are also diminished when the QR code image is blurred or very small in size.

No such limitations exist with a NFC tag. These tags can be read by a NFC phone's radio antenna with much faster times.

NFC usage statistics data since year 2011 point at a exponential increase in sales of NFC enabled mobile devices worldwide. It is predicted that by year 2015, more than a quarter of mobile devices sold worldwide will have NFC capabilities. This in an indicator of the success of NFC and it could possibly become a de-facto standard for tagging based systems.

Right now the QR code is still much prevalent, but again statistics show a decline in the overall percentage of adult mobile device users using QR code functionality.

Also the increasing rise in usage of mobile wallets, i.e making payments through mobile devices connected to internet is a trend that will help NFC to grow and make a foothold in the technology market. Take the case of India, recent analytics data tell that 7 out of 8 internet users here access it through mobile devices. This trend will exponentially increase tremendously within 5 years when the web penetration becomes more spread out.

Big companies like Paypal and Google are opening payment systems on mobile devices. The use of NFC integrated with more and more dependence on online bank accounts seems to be the trend forward.

With the increasing migration of consumer devices towards "networking" and embedded intelligence, technology like NFC seems to win over a simple printed QR code. Although the QR code may acquire a cult status in future in the way of "tattoos" because they at least look visually modern and trendy in the form of tattoos, which I think a tiny NFC microchip never will achieve !    

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