QR Codes Can Work in the Subway… it Depends

Mobile barcodes (such as QR Codes) are appearing in more places everyday and it’s not uncommon to find them in Toronto’s subway system both as posters within the station or on the subway cars themselves. The subway system here in Toronto is mostly underground (which seems obvious, but with brief breaks into the open) and there is no Wi-fi available yet despite much talk in the recent past.

For people who know what QR codes are capable of, seeing QR codes displayed on ads in an environment where there is no internet connection is confusing. How could these possibly be useful?

The fact is, in most cases they are right, the actions initiated by scanning the code require an internet connection. But, a QR code can still be useful without an internet connection. The QR code could be embedded with additional text, simple contact information or instructions on what to do when you have a connection. A QR code can be embedded with up to 7089 characters, however the dot pattern would be too dense and the dots so small and most scanners would end up having trouble reading them. So, the reality is any additional information would have to be simple, direct and brief.

The important thing for advertisers to consider when placing mobile barcodes on ads in the subway or in any environment is, what are the limitations of the environment (space, low light) and what are you asking users to do. If you are asking users to connect to a site, or watch a video, it’s simply not going to work. Expecting a user to take out their smartphone on a crowded subway car, lean over other passengers to scan or capture the code is work enough – let alone expect them to access the code later when they get to the surface and have a connection. (most readers allow the codes to be saved)

The same issue with connectivity is going to exist whether an ad is displaying a web URL or it’s asking a user to text a keyword to a mobile short code. Mobile experiences work better ‘in the moment’ and having internet connectivity to complete the experience is essential.

At Delvinia we have created QR codes that contain the contact information for each of our team members. The QR codes can be accessed on our eCeption touchscreen allowing for an easy transfer of contact information onto an interested person’s mobile device. There are plans to include these codes on our website and possibly even business cards.

Direct vs Indirect

QR codes are embedded with information. This information could be a URL, a phone number, address, contact information. When a user scans a QR code it immediately initiates an action associated with the type of information, for example a URL opens a mobile browser, an address would open a map, and of course a phone number would initiate a phone call. In other words they act directly – this is why they can operate without an internet connection.

Proprietary codes such as ScanLife’s EZ Codes or Microsoft’s Tag require an internet connection as they are not directly embedded with the information to initiate the intended action. They contain a pointer to an online source where the actions are saved. QR codes can be used in this way too.

Advantages of using indirect codes are:

  • the code can be reused and the actions changed in the database
  • the dot patterns tend to be simpler allowing them to be more easily read by simpler phones
  • the code can be smaller as it is

So, next time you see a QR code on the subway give it a try. It may not be the complete #FAIL that you thought it was (but it probably is).

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