Jon Barocas is the founder and CEO of bieMEDIA, a Denver-based online marketing and media solutions company that specializes in video content production and distribution, mobile visual search, technology platforms, SEO, VSEO and more.
Like most technology fans, I am always ready and willing to try any technology that promises to simplify my life. QR codes seemed to present an accessible and uniform way for people with smart devices to interact with advertising, marketing and media. Those little squares of code seemed to open a world of opportunity and potential. But after using them for a length of time, I shifted my perspective.
My initial honeymoon with QR codes was very short-lived. The initial rush that I had received from trying to frame the code on my device had lost its luster. I started to view QR codes as a barrier to additional information. And in many instances, the rewards (whatever I received as a result of scanning the code) did not measure up to the effort of the transaction itself.
Consider a recent study by comScore, which states that only 14 million American mobile device users have have interacted with a QR code. In essence, less than 5% of the American public has scanned a QR code. So where’s the disconnect?
Inadequate technology, lack of education and a perceived dearth of value from QR codes are just three of the reasons mobile barcodes are not clicking with Americans. But it goes deeper than that.
Humans are visual animals. We have visceral reactions to images that a QR code can never evoke; what we see is directly linked to our moods, our purchasing habits and our behaviors. It makes sense, then, that a more visual alternative to QR codes would not only be preferable to consumers, but would most likely stimulate more positive responses to their presence.
The QR Alternative
Enter mobile visual search (MVS). With MVS, you simply point at a product or logo and shoot a picture with your smartphone’s built-in camera. Within seconds, the MVS application will provide product or company information, or even the option to make a purchase right then and there on your mobile device.
MVS is a far more compelling and interactive tool to enable mobile marketing and commerce. In today’s increasingly mobile world, instant gratification is the norm, and taking the extra step of finding a QR code scanner on your mobile device no longer makes sense. With MVS, you are interacting with images that are familiar and desirable, not a square of code that elicits no reaction.
The opportunities are boundless with MVS. Unlike two-dimensional barcodes and QR codes, MVS will have wrap-around and three-dimensional recognition capabilities. Even traditional advertising will be revitalized with MVS. For example, picture an interactive print campaign that incorporates MVS as part of a competition or game. Marketers can offer instant gratification in the form of videos, mobile links, coupons or discounts as incentive for taking the best pictures of a particular product or logo.
The world has already started to migrate to MVS. For example, companies in Argentina and South Korea currently allow commuters waiting for subways or buses to view images of groceries or office supplies. Embedded within these images are recognitions triggers: Smartphone users place and pay for an order to be delivered or picked up within minutes.
Also, MVS can cash in on word-of-mouth marketing. Marketers will seamlessly link their campaigns to social networks so consumers can share photos and rewards, such as vouchers, coupons or music downloads, with their friends and followers.
QR Code Security Risks
In addition to being a more versatile medium, mobile visual search is also more secure than QR code technology. Cybercriminals are able to cloak smartphone QR code attacks due to the nature of the technology — QR codes’ entire purpose is to store data within the code. There is no way to know where that code is going to take you: a legitimate website, infected site, malicious app or a phishing site. MVS’s encryption modality will eliminate the opportunity for malicious code to download to your smartphone.
Recently, there have been documented cases of QR code misuse and abuse around the globe. For instance, infected QR codes can download an app that embeds a hidden SMS texting charge in your monthly cellphone bill. QR codes can also be used to gain full access to a smartphone — Internet access, camera, GPS, read/write local storage and contact data. All of the data from a smartphone can be downloaded and stolen, putting the user at risk for identity theft — without the user noticing.
Mobile visual search is a safer and more secure technology that can provide more information and content than a QR code, without as many security risks. By focusing on real-world objects and images rather than code, MVS lessens the risk of a virus or Trojan attack.
Safety, security and versatility — there are many reasons that MVS will supplant QR codes. However, there is one important, largely overlooked reason to favor MVS over QR codes: For the first time, we will be able connect with our actual surroundings in a truly interactive way. We will be able to provide a virtual marketplace that is familiar and accessible. Humanizing this interaction and making it more visual are the foundations of MVS’s imminent success.
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