mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

QR Codes Suck

It could always get better, but as things stand right now, QR codes suck. Here’s my most recent GOD-AWFUL experience with QR codes. I was at my favorite bubble tea place in the world: ShareTea in San Mateo. While waiting for my drink to be brought down from heaven by angels, I saw a sign posted on the wall.

I thought to myself, “Aww yeah! I’ll follow you on Instagram.” I pulled out my iPhone, launched the Camera app, pointed it at the QR code, and waited. Nothing. I launched Instagram, switched to camera mode, and repeated. Nothing.

Stuff just isn’t right here!

The advertisement should include the Instagram username. Seems pretty negligent to exclude it given how short usernames typically are: in this case shareteasanmateo. But isn’t the whole point of the QR code to eliminate the need for us to type out that username?

The larger issue here is built-in QR code support sucks. It sucks on iOS. It sucks on Android. To read QR codes, you need to download an app… And there a ton of them! Seriously, I can google for the “best QR code reader on iOS [or Android],” and there are actually a plethora of relevant hits.

But once I settled for an app, the experience did not really get any better.

Scanning the above QR code, I am taken to the ShareTea’s Instagram page in an embedded browser, featuring ads for some Zynga-esque casino game. And that’s it. I can’t hit the follow button because I’m not logged into Instagram in this embedded browser. I still don’t know the username because it’s no where to be found on the webpage – hats off to the Instagram team! I actually need to click on the URL and navigate to the end to see it. Then I need to do that click-hold gesture and drag to select just the username, copy it, open Instagram, paste it and FINALLY, I can follow ShareTea.

What did the QR code get me? Nothing. It’s not helpful. It’s not faster. It’s actually very frustrating.

In an ideal world, the OS on my phone should recognize and parse a QR code into a common format (the hardest part here) that can do more than simply open a webpage. In that wonderful future, I would just launch the Camera app, point it at the QR code, the QR code would contain an app identifier (e.g Instagram), and metadata related to the end-goal (e.g. following ShareTea). The Camera app notifies me that the QR code wants to launch Instagram. If I accept, it takes me into the app, and then to the user’s page before finally asking me to follow them.

One day, those may be tears of happiness...

Hang in there QR codes! You suck now, but there is hope for the future!