Back in October of 2011, I penned a musing for DOCUMENT about how the QR code was positioned to become a major alternative marketing channel. In 2011, smartphones made up about 40% of the cellular phone marketplace, and that number was poised to grow hugely. Around the same time, QR codes were suddenly appearing everywhere as part of innovative campaigns for companies, like Starbucks who experimented with credit card-like transactions. This kind of growth supports my personal belief that Moore’s Law (which roughly posits that computing power doubles about every 18 months) extends to the software and systems that depend on the hardware with which Moore was concerned. Hence, QR codes should now have a deeper penetration as a marketing tool and the usage rates should be substantially more, as the number and overall computing power of smart mobile devices continue to rise. So, let’s take a look at the growth of QR code use over the past two years and determine if my prediction was prophetic or apocryphal.

    Most statistical surveys seem to indicate a growing acceptance of QR codes among smartphone users, which (according to an often cited study by Jumptap) has actually peaked as a market segment and is now giving ground to mobile pads. Yet, the smart device growth overall is tending to bring QR code usage along with it. Jumptap provided some surprising data that the percentage of smartphone users among all users peaked at around 79% in 2011, and some projections see an almost 10% drop by 2013. Yet, the number of pad users has increased more than four-fold over the same period, going from around 7% of the market in 2011 to an anticipated nearly 30% of the total cellular market in 2013. Click here to see TechCrunch's infographic, "Device-Type Market Share Tablets, Smartphones & Feature Phones.  

    What are all these people scanning with their devices? ScanLife, one of the leading code scanning software publishers for mobile devices, lists the most commonly scanned content as product information and social media. ScanLife also reports the top industry for QR code usage as retail, followed by food and beverage, and they tallied over 18 million total scans in the first quarter of 2013. That amounts to more than a 50% increase in the number of codes scanned, compared to the less than 12 million for Q4 of 2011 when I first wrote about QR codes. Clearly, QR codes are still here and are here to stay for the foreseeable future.


    "The number of pad users has increased from around 7% of the market in 2011 to an anticipated nearly 30% of the total cellular market in 2013. " 


    Based on the increasing numbers and persistence of QR code usage and considering the growing market share of pad computing, it would seem pretty clear that marketers should strive to create a pad-friendly social media experience. Therefore, QR codes should be a simple and cost-effective means of driving that traffic to your space. I think the next stage is going to involve providing a more personalized experience driven by QR code scanning, perhaps involving securely storing personal data in your own code and entering a two-way communication using the codes as a means of handshaking, introduction and information sharing. Thus, the QR code could become the driver that creates the personalized social media experience for visitors. 

    The astronomical number of consumers involved in mobile computing and the rising numbers for online transactions and product research also indicate a steadily growing channel. The industry movement towards mobile pads and the slowly decreasing smartphone market share seem to indicate the consumer’s desire for yet even richer and more informative content than is available on the necessarily limited display real estate of the smartphone. I think the real winners in the QR code game are going to be the innovators who find ways to use these 2Kb data storage icons to most effectively take advantage of the capabilities of mobile pad computing while maintaining relevance in the smartphone marketplace.

    DAVID MARTINA is the vice president of Systems Integration for NEPS, LLC of Salem, New Hampshire, a firm that provides solutions for the automation of document-intensive business processes. For more, email david.martina@NEPS.com.