21/12/2011 06:10 GMT | Updated 31/01/2012 05:12 GMT

QR Codes: The Great Technology That Isn't

All of us have seen those little blocks of random mess that are supposed to be the (more) modern equivalent of bar codes. Called QR Codes, these little blocks can keep a lot of data in a small space. They were supposed to transform how mobile users interact with the real world by allowing businesses and others to give users an easy way to quickly access information. My company built QR Scanner for iPhones, so I do want to disclose that.

After all, what can be better than seeing an ad in a magazine, on a bus stop, or elsewhere in the world, pointing your device's camera at it, and being instantly moved to an interactive mobile website, downloading a great app, or otherwise interacting with what was once just a 2-D, static advertisement? Think of the possibilities for ads both large and small, from the flier the local band stapled to the telephone pole to the multi-million dollar ad campaign McDonald's puts in your favorite magazine.. these QR Codes could have been something great.


Well, maybe, but even in Japan where they're as common as URLs on ads, they aren't really all that popular or useful. Mostly they just lead users to more advertising, a lot of fluff with little substance.

Now we have yet another reason to ignore them: hackers.

A recent rash of Android-based QR Codes have been spreading. These are codes which lead to a download of an Android phone app that, once launched, sends random text messages from your phone to a premium number which charges you $5USD per text. The app itself is a hacked (and legitimate-appearing) version of Jimm, a Russian ICQ client. Most victims don't realize they've been hacked until they get their next phone bill. Woe to those who have auto-pay on their accounts!

The QR Code was once full of potential, and might still be, but really.. how useful is a glorified bar code? Really? To what purpose could it be put other than marketing and the occasional hack? There were a lot of other ideas for them, but none have come to fruition in any real numbers.

So the QR Code remains the "idea that once was" but nothing more. Too bad. It was really a good one. As phones get smarter, perhaps the coming of Augmented Reality to a phone near you will supplant the great idea behind QR and give us QAR instead?