QR codes…

QR codes…

This post is about QR codes, and the (admittedly too strong) feelings I have about them.

To primitively sum up this post; I do not like Qr codes. This dislike does not stem from the actual technology or specifications of QR codes, as a matter of fact I think QR codes are quite smart. Not only are they the logical evolution of bar codes — moving from one dimension to two — they also allow for neat things such as the embedding of branding images.

No, my dislike of QR codes stems from their application and the specific ways they affect me. Final disclaimer: I know this is a dictionary example of a first-world-problem, but this is my blog and I write about whatever I want.

To start with my dislikes, there is the lack of integration. I vividly remember being absolutely enthralled with making “my own” QR codes back in 2011. Yet in ${CURRENT_YEAR} the support of them is still lacking. The IOS camera app supports scanning of the codes, but as far as I am aware it only properly loads URL codes. One of the great things about QR codes is that you can embed any form of text in it, be that wifi-passwords information bulletins or URLs. Rather than opening QR data in the notes app, the IOS camera only works with URLs and opens them in Safari. (Note that I have not used any recent version of IOS, but this is at least the case on the I-Phones of my family members.)

Android is even worse in this respect as I have not been able to find a single default Android camera app that allows for any sort of QR scanning.

Now, I understand that a great benefit of these operating systems is the expansiveness of their respective app libraries, and that one can install third party apps that correct the errors I noted for the IOS camera app. The reason I am upset about the lack of QR capability for the default apps is that QR codes have been around for a long time, and have been fairly common for almost as long. It is incredibly useful if not out-right required (I will get to that) to have a qr code scanner with you at all times. When phones are shipping with so many useless applications such as games, social media apps and vendor bloatware, it upsets me that useful features require third party programs.

Now, as I briefly mentioned, having a QR code scanner is almost-required for life in modern society. This is way more of a problem for me than the above mentioned since I do not own a smartphone and therefore can not carry a QR scanner.

Here is a (non-extensive) list of absolutely ludicrous things that have been replaced by QR codes:

1. Cafeteria opening times

At my university, the opening times for the cafeteria are “hidden” in a qr code at the entrance. At first I thought this code linked to a website, thus allowing the university to adjust the times without modifying the sign, but no, it is a text code, and is therefore just as static as the a simple written sign. Even if it was a a url QR, I still think that a simple timetable is more useful in the vast majority of situations.

2. COVID19 tracking info

In most of Europe, during the partial lockdowns between 2020 and 2022, people were asked to give their contact information to any restaurants and cafes they visited. While some places gave you a simple pamphlet (and some even gave you a pen (wow!)), the majority of pales simply slapped a QR code on the table. This code would take you to an online form for which you needed an internet connection. Most cafes I went to did not however have the foresight of opening up their networks to the public, and seeming expected you to have a mobile data plan as well as a smartphone.

Some places even locked the menu behind the completion of this form, this is not customer friendly, but deserves it’s own section.

3. Menus, ordering and payment

As mentioned, certain culinary establishments I have visited over the last few years have decided to hide their menus behind a QR code. Not only is this horribly inaccessible, it is also a terrible experience. There is a reason why printed menus never come printed on A7 paper, that is because such a small menu incredibly annoying to read, a smartphone of the same size on the other hand should be totally fine (note the italics to emphasize sarcasm). Furthermore, anyone who does not need constant digital dopamine will agree that having one’s smartphone in hand — or even on the table — during dinner is incourteous, distracting, and a total conversation killer.

If one gets a phone call during dinner, one will typically either not take the call or apologize and proceed to handle the matter quickly. If one on the other hand want’s to hold entire (dare I say meaningless) conversations, or post incessant status update on their smartphone, an apology is not warranted and the matter need not be kept brief.

I digress, but I hope my point is clear on why smartphones at restaurants are a bad idea.

The worst offender of this QR reliance was a restaurant and bar I went to with a friend a few weeks back before we were set to got to a concert. The place had a online QR accessible menu, no public WiFi. Payment and ordering took place through the same system.

There were waitresses and waiters around to bring people their food, but otherwise they were completely replaced by a ridiculous blocky image. When we asked if the place still had a physical card, we were informed that they did, but that it was entirely out of date. The evening was saved by a lovely waitress who recited part of the card by memory, was apt at giving recommendations, and who dug up a payment terminal from the box of ancient relics. (While I would love to go into the move away from cash at this point, I think I have wandered of course more than enough for one post).

4. Lockers

Remember that concert I mentioned in the previous section? Well they were in bed with big QR too and required you to scan a code and pay digitally to open a bloody locker. Not only can you just taste the security concerns of having an internet-connected locker system, this system also offered absolutely no alternatives and it was completely impossible for me to pay for and use a locker.

I could go on but I think my point is clear. Commercial places around me keep switching to systems which replace totally functional ones for seemingly no particular reason. The systems being replaced are often more accessible, more functional, cheaper, easier to understand, repair and use, and therefore just more customer friendly.

And that is the issue I have with these places. I can understand the argument that it is cheaper to print QR stickers than it is to print whole menus. This is especially the case if you already have a digital menu on your website for potential customers. The same could be said for any of the above examples. But things are not getting any cheaper, and even if they were requiring your customers to carry around a five hundred to one thousand euro slab of transistors, sensors and tracking software just to do something with is perfectly possible without said slab… is just silly and ultimately more expensive. The only world in which it is not more expensive is one where everyone owns such a ridiculously expensive product anyways. And… I suppose that world is not far from the one we live in already. Of course, this problem (and by extension, this post) is not in itself limited to QR codes, the case remains however that QR codes are a prime example of the prolific enforced smartphone dependence of modern life.

This post is ultimately useless at there is no reasonable chance it will have any effect on the world at large. I suppose there is a reason why this blog was once named “A scream into the void”.

A la prochaine