QR Codes vs. Near Field Communication: The Battle for Google’s Attention

If you have never heard of a QR code, chances are you’ve seen one. Known as “Quick Response” codes, the square-shaped bar codes have been showing up everywhere, including poster advertisements, newspaper ads, business cards, and even utility bills. The concept is simple: Take a picture of a QR code with your smartphone to get more information about a product, business, or whatever else the code’s embedded info is promoting. The recent rise in the US of QR codes, which have been widely used in Japan for years, has been fueled by the increasing popularity of smartphones. Major companies like AT&T, Verizon, Ford, and Pepsi have been jumping on the QR code bandwagon in droves. And companies aren’t the only users. Anybody can go to websites like http://qrcode.kaywa.com to create their own codes to link to blogs or print on business cards.  

But hold the (smart) phone. (Please excuse my bad pun.) Until recently, Google widely supported QR codes, using them in its Google Places service to allow people to use their smartphones to find business addresses, URLs, hours of operations, and more. Businesses listed on Places would often put Google-supplied decals printed with QR codes in their windows for customers to scan. Google quietly stopped using the code last month, however, in favor of a new and dynamic technology known as Near Field Communication (NFC). If the technology takes off as Google predicts, NFC may quickly supplant QR codes as advertisement vehicles and send them to the technology graveyard just as fast as they hit US shores.

So what exactly is NFC? Not to be confused with the NFL’s esteemed National Football Conference, NFC is a new type of chip that can be embedded in 2-D items like posters or cards. Similar to QR codes, NFC chips can contain product information and other data. The chips can take the form of tags, stickers, or cards. A person with a NFC-enabled smartphone could wave their phone near a poster with a NFC tag to upload the information embedded in the tag.

What makes NFC tags so appealing to Google (and perhaps to companies currently using QR codes) are the tag’s other potential uses. Friends and family could transfer photos and other files between NFC-enabled phones by touching their phones together. There is also talk of using the technology to allow consumers to purchase products at retail stores using their smartphones. The phone’s NFC technology would simply store the shopper’s credit card information. According to Business Insider and technology experts, NFC could also be used in personal ID’s or driver’s licenses, keys, and to exchange phone numbers and other contact information between mobile phones with minimal typing.

In addition to Google, mobile phone manufacturers, credit card companies, and payment processors have recently thrown their hats into the NFC ring. A recent Techcrunch article noted that “Google is already supporting NFC chips in Android phones such as the Nexus S and is expected to roll out tests of wave-and-pay systems at stores in New York City and San Francisco in partnership with VeriFone Systemsand ViVOtech.” (Samsung and Google are co-developing Nexus S.)  The article also cited Google’s dismissal of QR codes, as well as its new membership in the non-profit industry association NFC Forum, as an indicator of Google’s shift in focus to NFC technologies. Apparently Google has already started sending out decals with NFC tags to some of its Google Places businesses.

In light of all of NFC’s potential uses, it’s no wonder that Google, often ahead of the technology curve, has shifted away from QR codes just as other companies are starting to use them.  Some industry experts predict that Google’s shift will render QR codes obsolete, while others see a future for the codes, especially in the retail sector.

Personally, I see the use of QR codes declining. Because of easy, free access, bloggers and business card owners could be the last QR code holdouts. But as more and more people buy NFC-enabled smartphones, NFC could very well become the preferred embedded digital advertisement tool for marketers. And with all of its other uses, Near Field Communication could also become a household name, especially as companies invest in the technology.  I’m not convinced the same can be said of  QR codes,  since many people that I know have never heard of the name.

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Photo courtesy of Kaywa.com
Rachel Gallo

Rachel Gallo is a writer and editor at Hoover's and contributor to Bizmology. Her work covers a variety of industries and topics, including news and trends across the health care, financial services, technology, and business services industries.

Read more articles by Rachel Gallo.

Comments

  1. How does a small business acquire and encode a NFC chip? Why would I prefer that technology when I can hop online anytime and generate a highly functional QR code for free that offers me tracking capabilities? Will NFC options be no-cost and very handy like that?

    What’s the real scoop?

  2. No doubt they will have NFC ink for newspapers and magazines?

  3. Wow, that opens up a whole new level of security and identity theft issues. I’ll have to pass until the world becomes more honest and trusting.

  4. NFC didn’t work so well with mastercard and their paypass system…does anyone still remember that? what if someone steals your phone or it’s lost? QR codes seem so easy for the somewhat techie to produce and implement.

  5. My understanding is that NFC is basically the next step for RFID. This being said, it is possible to program a multitude of different RFID mediums, from printed labels to plastic cards, with little more than an expensive printer. NFC is a technology to keep an eye out for in the future, but are we aware of the security risks associated with this tech? What stops some 21st century pickpocket from sitting on a street corner with a high-powered RFID receiver stealing credit card and contact information, or who knows what else, from unsuspecting smart phone owners?

    I’m interested in understanding more about this technology, but am still a bit wary of it’s disadvantages. I’m a student studying engineering. Although google discontinued the use of QR codes, I beleve there to be many benefits and uses for them. For them to bece second nature to consumers, applications must be present where there is no choice but to use them, or simple functions such as exchanging phone numbers through QR code just as blackberry users exchange bbm pins…All food for thought, because I don’t forsee this shiny, new, fancy RFID tech catching on for quite a few more years until the vast majority market share of mobile phones are smart phones which include easy-to-use, secure NFC applications out of their box.

  6. My understanding is that NFC is basically the next step for RFID. This being said, it is possible to program a multitude of different RFID mediums, from printed labels to plastic cards, with little more than an expensive printer. NFC is a technology to keep an eye out for in the future, but are we aware of the security risis associated with this tech? What stops some 21st century pickpocket from sitting on a street corner with a high-powered RFID receiver and stealing credit/contact information, or who knows what else, from unsuspecting smartphone owners?

    I’m interested in understanding more about this technology, but an still a bit wary of its disadvantages. I’m a student studying engineering, and always like to hear about new advancements or the “next step” in mobile computing. Although Google discontinued the use of QR codes, I believe there to be many benefits and uses for them. For them to become second-nature to consumers, aplications must be present where there is no choice but to use them. These applications could be simple functions, such as exchanging phone numbers through QR codes just as blackberry users exchange BBM pins… All food for thought, because I don’t see this shiny, new, fancy RFID tech catching on for quite a few more years until the vast majority market share of mobile phones are smart phones that include easy-to-use, secure NFC applications out of their box.

    **reposted again because I typed my email address wrong the first time.

  7. All you say about the technology being superior is true, but why would NFC codes gain familiarity if QR codes did not?

  8. Mitch Taylor says:

    Since Im a newbie with QR technology. I can ony think that Google has further reaching needs, such as the ability to sell its current investor base a new way.

    Hey the old way is accepted, security proven, cheap for the masses. I dunno. My bet is to maintain status quo-

  9. NFC tech, like his name state is about near electromagnetic fields interaction, the operative range is from 0-4 cm, that is from a touch to less than two inches. Also this tech. have the capability to encrypt the data. It makes the interaction with devices and with non-electronic devices faster and easier without the need to make a single click (interesting with merchandise, add, interactive posters, etc).

    I see a world of possibilities, QR technology is cheaper and painless interaction, but at least for me have a narrow catalog for applications. Sure that NFC is lacking on some points, but this is a nice technology to keep an eye on it. :]

  10. Gaston Redford says:

    I happen to like NFC. NFC opens up the ability to create new services and new experiences for people. It makes some transactions quicker, easier, and more enjoyable. Security risks are present in almost all different types of technology that we use on a daily basis (like bluetooth, wifi networks, atms) and will continue to be a part of life because people will always lie, cheat and steal in order to make a quick dollar. This is sad but true. There’ll always be that portion of society that tries to @#!% things up for the rest of us. As long as we use new tech like NFC and abide by the rules, i.e. no stealing, fraud, identity theft, etc., it can add a lot of value for everyone.

    QR Codes are great but they’re not as flexible as NFC Tags. That’s about the only downside when the two are compared but it’s a pretty big downside to me. Both are pretty quick but in my experience, QR Codes can be a pain if your qr code scanner isn’t working properly, or if the image is too big or too small to be accurately read.

    NFC can work in mobile payments, ticketing, advertising, file sharing, vending, the list goes on. With more smartphones coming out with NFC like the Nokia Lumia 920, HTC One, and the Sony Xperia Z, the technology is gaining a lot of traction…much like Blu-ray did when it competed against HD DVD. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

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