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Is Covid-19 the saviour of the QR code?

A QR code, or Quick Response code, is a matrix barcode first designed in 1994 for the automotive industry in Japan.

The potential of the QR code was quickly seen by the marketing industry resulting in it being utilised for a multitude of functions, from loyalty schemes and product promotions to counterfeit detection and augmented reality.

However the less than aesthetically pleasing appearance of QR codes meant its heyday was relatively short. The QR code gradually fell out of favour as new methods of reaching customers came to the fore.

Until that is the new NHS Covid-19 app was launched, with it putting QR codes in numerous shops and stores across the land. The use of the QR code by the NHS Covid-19 app is ideal as it can track and report users’ activity in real-time, simply with a quick scan of a smart device.

The marketplace in recent years has become far more QR code friendly making the use for Covid-19 Track and Trace a clever one. Enhanced recognition technology used by the latest smartphones contains in-built QR code readers, so consumers can now just switch on their phone camera, point it at a QR code and it will trigger a digital action or connected experience. Gone are the days of needing to download a QR code reader.

With Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2019 showing that 79% of UK adults own a smartphone, it means the Covid-19 app can seamlessly reach out to the majority of the population without further complicating their day-to-day life.

The technological advance in smartphone camera capabilities hasn’t gone unnoticed by other companies, quite the opposite in fact. Spotify, Instagram and Amazon have been at the forefront of a revival of the formerly unfashionable, boxy barcodes!

Some companies have redefined the quintessential boxy look of the QR code system, moving away from the familiar square design, and instead creating a branded version of their own. Instagram’s ‘Nametags’ offer a prime example of this trend.

It is estimated that by 2022 over 1 billion smartphones will access QR codes, so maybe this technology will be with us for longer than we first thought.


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