I’m such a Luddite! I was only vaguely aware of QR codes — Quick Response codes. I had heard of them, and I had seen them, and I knew you could somehow embed information in them. But that was the extent of my knowledge.
Well, I finally read up on QR codes, and now I wish that they were ubiquitous.
A QR code is a sort of two-dimensional bar code that can embed textual information, a URL, an email address, an SMS message, and other types of information directly into the code. Anyone with a smart phone that has a QR code reader installed can simply point their phone at the code to access that information.
If the code is a URL, the phone will take them to that web address. If the code is an email address, it’ll open up the phone’s email program and start a new, pre-addressed email. If the code is an SMS message, it’ll send the text to the phone. And so forth.
QR codes are, in essence, a hyperlink between the physical world and the digital world. They’re sometimes called “object hyperlinking” — as in, linking something like a printed flier to this web page. But QR codes aren’t limited to printed materials; QR codes can be imprinted on nearly anything, including actual products. There’s even a company in Seattle that offers headstones with QR codes on them!
Apparently, QR codes have been widely used in Japan since the early 1990s, but they’re still just catching on here. Now that I know what they are, I wish they’d hurry up and catch on in a big way.
People are using them for business cards and on fliers and such. There’s some advertising that uses QR codes. But by and large, I’m not seeing widespread adoption of QR codes, and that’s a shame, because the concept of QR codes — a link between a real-world object and the digital world — is hugely powerful.
I’ve been trying to think of some way I can harness the power of QR codes to make money. So far, I’m not coming up with anything but lame ideas that might make a few bucks. My business model doesn’t especially lend itself to object hyperlinking.
But I’m thinking of all kinds of ways that I wish other people would use QR codes.
QR Codes at the Grocery Store
I would like to see QR codes on all the stuff I buy at the grocery store. I want a QR code that will take me to a web page that provides full nutritional information and a complete ingredients list. I want a QR code that will take me to a recipe collection of dishes that I can make with that item. I want a QR code that will tell me the expiration date of the product, with information about whether it’s a sell-by date or a use-by date, and how I can tell if the product has gone bad.
QR Codes for User Manuals
I want a QR code directly imprinted on every single tool, appliance and device I own that needs an instruction manual. I want to be able to point my phone at my coffeemaker to get the instructions for cleaning it. I want a QR code on my camera that links to the manual for the camera. A QR code on my washer, dryer, refrigerator, printer, power tools, blender, beater, mixer — you name it, I want a QR code for the instruction manual permanently affixed to the product. Just think, I could empty my file cabinet of all those manuals that take up too much space and always hide when I need them!
QR Codes for Assembly Instructions
I want QR codes for assembly instructions on all products that arrive in need of assembly. Sure, when you first buy the product, the assembly instructions are right there in the package. But what about 10 or 15 years later when you move, and you disassemble the product for the move, and then you need to re-assemble it? Chances are, you no longer have the original assembly instructions.
QR Codes for Refills
I want a QR code on my refrigerator and on its water filter cartridge for reordering the water filter. I want a QR code on my laser printer and on the toner cartridge for ordering a replacement toner cartridge. I want a QR code on my one-cup coffeemaker for reordering the little coffee pod things that it uses. I want a QR code on my vacuum cleaner for ordering vacuum bags.
I want a QR code on my little printing calculator for ordering a new roll of thermal paper. I want a QR code on my Dymo LabelWriter for ordering labels for it.
A QR code for refill supplies would leave no question about whether you’re ordering exactly the right product. I’m often not quite sure whether the toner cartridge or water filter or vacuum bag will fit the specific product I have. A QR code would remove all the guesswork and eliminate the time spent hunting for model numbers and arcane manufacturer codes.
QR Codes for Replacement Parts and Accessory Catalogs
I want a QR code on my digital camera for ordering a larger memory chip or a replacement battery. I want a QR code on my Hobie Adventure Island for ordering parts and accessories, such as a turbo Mirage drive, a dry bag, a paddle, etc.
I want a QR code on the canopy top that shades our sailboat. The Florida sun is so harsh that we have to order a replacement canopy top every couple of years, and I’m never quite sure if I’m ordering the correct top. The wrong one wouldn’t fit the frame that we have, so it would be a PITA if I ordered a wrong one.
Basically, I want a QR code on every single thing I own that I might ever need to order supplies or refills, replacement parts, or accessories.
Why aren’t manufacturers doing this? As things stand now, they let us thrash around on our own looking for sources to order refills and parts from. Probably more often than not, we end up ordering non-OEM parts from third parties.
The manufacturers could pretty well lock in the refills, parts and accessories markets if they gave us direct links to order those items directly from them — and we as consumers would have a quick and easy way to order that kind of stuff, without any worry or guesswork about which model, which part, will it fit, etc. Embedding those direct links into QR codes imprinted on the actual product would free us from the perpetual need to keep user manuals forever.
QR Codes for Product Information
QR codes can be used anytime and any place that manufacturers might need to provide product information. All of my clothing should have a QR code on the tag to provide cleaning information. Medicines should have QR codes that link to the datasheet the pharmacist gives you: how often to take the med, whether to take it with food or water, side effects to watch out for, etc.
Children’s toys should have a QR code that provides the age-appropriate range of the toy. Hair dryers and curling irons should have a QR code with the standard warnings not to use them while sleeping.
All products that have a warranty should be imprinted with a QR code providing complete warranty information: What’s covered under the warranty, what’s not, how to make a warranty claim, etc. Heck, all warrantied products should have a QR code to register the product when you buy it. No more filling out those silly little warranty cards.
QR Codes on my Dogs
I would like to be able to buy a tag for my dogs’ collars with a QR code that has my contact information. If one of my dogs should ever go missing, anyone with a smart phone who finds the dog could get in touch with me. Sure, I have my dogs microchipped, but the person who finds the dog has to take it to a vet for scanning, and there’s going to be some delay. With a QR code on the dog’s tag, the person can get in touch with me immediately. Oh, wait…. PetHub is already doing that. I’m going to have to get a couple of those for my furkids.
Advertisers and marketers are making some use of QR codes, putting them in their ads in magazines, on billboards, and so forth. You can use the QR code to get more information about the item, or to find the nearest place to buy it in your local area. But they could be doing so much more.
When I went looking for a QR code reader for my iPhone, there were about a dozen free QR code readers for the iPhone alone. A couple of button presses to download and install an app, and my iPhone was a QR code reader. I’m sure that other popular smart phones have free QR code reader apps available, too. So there’s no real obstacle to people being able to read and use QR codes.
Where would you like to see QR codes? I’m sure there are tons of uses for them that I haven’t thought of.