It's time to say goodbye to QR codes

You may have never heard of them but you've definitely seen them:

QR code to

If you keep your eyes peeled, you'll find them all the way from newspapers to bus shelter timetables. Similar to a barcode, the black-and-white squares visually encode information. Most QR codes encode a web address that shows static info about a product or place.

To scan a QR code, the premise is that it's as simple as opening your phone's camera.

All the problems with QR codes

They're ugly

There, we said it. QR codes are interfaces for computers. People communicate with colours and shapes and metaphors, not bits and bytes. QR codes are not only ugly and scary, they're fundamentally unhuman.

They just don't do anything good

The motto of YCombinator is to "make something that people want". I'm astounded at the number of startups that genuinely add no value to life (that is, they make no human progress).

If those startups are a vitamin, not a pill, then QR codes are the vitamin that's bizarrely hailed to cure cancer: why scan a QR code for static info you can find by typing in a 10 character web address? Typing that web address is quicker than scanning the QR code itself.

Never mind a pill or a vitamin, QR codes are more of a disappointing placebo, a bit like ordering Coke and getting Pepsi, but much worse.

You have no idea what they are going to do

With all due fairness, this is a problem for NFC too (NFC, or 'near-field communication', is the tech behind contactless payments).

Generic NFC tags have extremely low engagement

You wouldn't randomly tap this, would you?

Indeed, if I had a dime for every time someone asked "What is that going to do to my phone?", I could buy myself a very expensive Starbucks.

This is today's reaction to both QR codes and NFC, but NFC has a key differentiator: payments. Contactless payments have been NFC's real blessing. Anyone who doesn't trust contactless payments is really showing their age.

The progression from confidence in tapping for payments is confidence in tapping for valuable, trusted experiences.

At Sticky, all of our stickers feature the "tap me" frame which creates the same value proposition and trust as the contactless logo. And yes, the design is protected!

Sticky stickers for reordering toilet roll and condoms

Why have QR codes lasted so long?

The internet democratized writing software and the printing press democratized politics. Now we all have (had?) a printing press at home, the QR code's humble advantage is that anyone can print one. They conveniently fit onto any surface from the cardboard cereal box to cheap magazines. They are effectively 'free to make'.

Let me explain why this is fundamentally unimportant.

Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park

Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. Jurassic Park

There you have it: just because you can print something doesn't mean you should. It's no surprise that having a printer at home hasn't created a new generation of novel writers.

What both QR codes and NFC represent is the bridge from smartphone to reality. If the end experience of scanning a QR code or tapping a sticker is poor, nobody is going to engage anyway, so the zero-cost of printing a QR code is irrelevant.

The real question is why we are so deeply focused on price when it comes to experiences. What does that say about how much we value consumers? Competing on price is a race to the bottom.

It's time to say goodbye

From the floppy disk to the headphone jack, Apple has a history of removing ubiquitous technology from its gadgets before people think they're ready to give them up. With the 1998 release of the iMac, Apple did away with the floppy disk drive, leaving only a rewritable CD drive. That lasted about 10 years, and then Apple killed the CD drive as well. CNN

It's easy to be right with hindsight, but the nostalgia of floppy disks could never have competed with the unbeautiful and inevitable push for human progress. Eventually someone has to move the world on from yesterday to tomorrow.

Today, we move the world on from static info through QR codes to valuable experiences through NFC.

Sticky stickers for reordering red wine and beer

Tap me.

Hindsight will be in your favour.