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Near Field Communication – Will it replace QR Codes?

So I’ve spent most of my time on this blog talking about QR codes in one way or another – QR codes in business marketing, using QR code analytics to make better decisions, using QR codes in schools, in museums, using them in your personal life like on invitations or your car keys, even using QR codes for your pets! There’s an interesting new technology out there, however, that is threatening to rival or even perhaps replace QR codes in their functionality. I’m talking, of course, about Near Field Communication.

What’s Near Field Communication, you ask? Near Field Communication (NFC) is a relatively new technology that’s only been around since the mid-2000′s and even now still isn’t that commonplace or widely used. It essentially uses radio waves to enable mobile devices to communicate with one another. The radio waves only travel really short distances, we’re talking centimeters here, which is why its called “near field.”

If you’ve ever used a Bluetooth device, it works kind of the same way, but Bluetooth works over a much broader distance than Near Field Communication. One of the criticisms of Bluetooth is that wireless communication that travels such long distances is prone to security breaches. While Near Field Communication isn’t 100% entirely secure, due to the very small distance the waves travel, there is very little chance that someone can intercept a signal. Encryption to the waves can provide a further line of defense.

So what can Near Field Communication do? Well, a lot of the same functions that QR codes can do. If you put two Near Field Communications devices together, they can exchange contact information. If you hold an NFC device to certain cash register terminals that are set up for it, you can make instant payments through your debit or credit card accounts. Google has a new service called Google Wallet that makes use of NFC, and as I understand it, its being rolled out in more and more locations every month.

Near Field Communication works off of small chip, so they don’t even need to be embedded in a smartphone or even powered. If you put an NFC chip in a piece of paper or in a mat or pad, it could completely unconnected to a power source and still work. That NFC chip would be called the “target”. An NFC enabled device like a smartphone could literally power the target through the radio waves it transmits.

Because NFC chips are small and portable, they can be used pretty much like a QR code – placed anywhere and directing users to whatever website or generating whatever response desired. However, they do offer one advantage over QR codes: QR codes that are very small or dense are difficult to focus on and scan. There’s a certain error rate built into them. An NFC chip doesn’t need to scan anything. It just needs to be placed in close proximity to its target.

Will NFC chips replace QR codes? I doubt it, at least for right now. They’ll probably be used alongside one another, just like Walkmans and CD players co-existed and CDs and iPods co-exist today. But it certainly is good fodder for discussion: where are these technologies going and what new, creative uses will people imagine for them?

QR Codes for Geocaching

Ok, so this blog entry has absolutely nothing to do with business or marketing, but its a cool use for QR codes that I recently learned about and decided I should I blog about it. It’s QR codes for geocaching.

If you’re not familiar with geocaching, its an increasingly popular hobby that involves people using GPS location devices to track down and find hidden caches that have unique items or “treasure” in them. People who find the cache usually record the cache in a log, either in print form or online, and they sometimes take or leave items in the cache as well.

Geocaching has really become popular since the increase of GPS devices and now that smartphones have GPS devices built into them, its probably going to take off even more. Geocachers love to look online and find out where there are caches nearby and when traveling, finding a cache can really add a great memory to a trip.

Now that QR codes are becoming more commonplace, its only natural that they’re being incorporated into geocaching. Here’s a few ways geocachers are using QR codes and QR code analytics:

  • Finding geocache locations. There’s a whole bunch of geocache listings online, with entire websites dedicated to recording and tracking their coordinates. The listings also allow goecachers to update them as new geocaches are created. With a QR code, a geocacher can be directed right away to a website that lists the coordinates of the caches.
  • Adding a log entry. Although some geocachers prefer to log the caches they’ve found into an old fashioned notebook with pen or pencil, geocaching lends itself to the tech savvy. Many geocachers prefer to log their cache discoveries online, and there are websites that allow geocachers to create their own profiles and list all the geocaches they’ve found.
  • Record and list the number of discovers of a cache. If there is a QR code located in the cache itself, geocachers who scan it can be directed to a website that allows them to record some basic information about themselves, like their names, their ages, and where they live. That way, the QR code can act as a type of digital log book for the cache that can never be taken, lost, or destroyed and can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

QR Codes For Museums

Of all the different types of businesses that I’ve blogged about that can make use of QR codes and QR code analytics, most have been your standard commercial enterprise. But theres a different type of business (or in some cases, non-profit organization) that can also reap the benefits of QR codes. I’m talking museums and galleries.

Here’s a few ways museums and galleries are utilizing QR codes to enhance their visitors’ experience:

  • Customized audio tours. Most museums have audio tours in the form of digital recordings that visitors can listen to on headphones, but each exhibit or painting has a different track and visitors have to find the specific track for each one. With QR codes printed and displayed alongside the exhibits or paintings, visitors can scan them and get a unique audio track on their phone almost instantly. Taking it a step further, QR code analytics can really provide valuable information to the museum or gallery owners. By tracking which QR codes are scanned more often than others, the museum or gallery owners can learn which exhibits are generating the most interest and can then move them to the most ideal spots.
  • Educational videos. Museums or art galleries could also offer videos instead of audio tours or even in conjunction with them. The videos could offer more information about the exhibit or painting, or the artist. It could also give viewers a behind the scenes about how the exhibit or painting was made.
  • Get patrons to donate. If the museum or gallery is a non-profit organization, a QR code could direct patrons to a website that allows them to donate funds to help support the non-profit. A lot of non-profit galleries have your common tip jar at the front, but this offers an alternative for patrons who don’t travel with much cash.

QR Codes in Education

I had a parent-teacher conference last night with one of my kids’ teacher. He’s a fairly young guy and very tech savvy, and I was very excited to learn that he uses technology fairly regularly in the classroom. We got to talking about the different ways technology can be used to enhance lessons and teaching, and the conversation eventually rolled around to QR codes. It turns out, he uses them in his classroom now and then, but wasn’t super enamored with them simply because there’s a lot of students out there who don’t have smartphones. Well, I told him about a website called SnapMyInfo that lets any phone with a camera take a photo of the QR code and email it to the site and then receive the response back via text message! Once he learned that, we started brainstorming all the different ways QR codes can be incorporated into the classroom:

  • QR codes on course syllabi to direct users to a digital copy or download it
  • QR code scavenger hunts (this is the method he had used previously that he knew students enjoyed)
  • QR code progress reports to parents that let the teacher know who’s seen them and who hasn’t
  • QR code multiple choice quizzes – a correct answer lets you move on; an incorrect one takes you to a website explaining why the answer was wrong and how to get the right one
  • QR codes on a blackboard/overhead to get instant notes

I only had a few minutes to speak with the young man before our session ended and I had to run off to see the other teachers. But I’m glad my child has this guy for a teacher and I’m glad to see that educators are embracing this new technology.

QR Codes As a Way to RSVP

Mrs. Micah got an invitation to a baby shower yesterday. It’s for one of her friends from college. Normally, she wouldn’t assume I would get all excited about a baby shower I’m not going to, but this time, she rushed over with the invite. “What the?” I was wondering. Then I saw what the big deal was. The baby shower invitation had two different QR codes on it. “Hey, how about that?” I said.

We scanned the two QR codes, and we discovered two new uses for QR codes that I had never seen before, and I had never even considered before (which is embarrassing for me to admit, given my experience with them).

The first one we scanned led us to directly to an RSVP page that prompted us to fill in our name and whether we were planning on coming. So ok, being directed to a website isn’t new, but one for RSVPs is something I hadn’t seen before, and the fact that the website could track who was coming and wasn’t left this analytics craving guy drooling.

The second one we scanned led us to the registry where the expecting momma had signed up for all the things she would need for the child. Registries are fairly common and a big source of revenue for businesses that deal in maternity, so I thought the QR code on a baby shower invite was genius.

It got me to thinking about all the other type of parties and celebrations that could use QR codes to allow guest to RSVP and buy gifts at registries:

  • Weddings
  • Baptisms
  • Bris milahs
  • Confirmations
  • Engagement parties
  • Graduations
  • Anniversaries
  • Birthdays
  • Bar and Bat Mithvahs

The next time you have to send out a round of invitations, give your guests another option besides mailing in a RSVP card. Give them a QR code that will let you know instantly who’s coming and who’s not.