QR Codes versus Near Field Communication

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By Tanya Wozniaki

If you’ve ever opened a magazine or glanced at a poster to see a strange square box on it that looks a bit like a strangely formed barcode, chances are you’ve encountered a QR code. Short for “quick response,” QR codes function much like near field communication and are also growing in popularity. Open a barcode scanner app on your smartphone, hold the phone over the QR code while it reads it and after a few seconds the relevant web page or link will load on your smartphone’s screen.

Though both NFC and QR codes rely on contactless, wireless communication to transmit information to interested individuals, they are different technologies and have both their pros and cons when compared to one another. Currently QR codes are cheaper and easier to set up. Virtually any smartphone can analyze a QR code, unlike NFC which requires the phone to have a NFC chip installed. QR codes can be printed on most surfaces and easily seen by users.

On the other hand, QR codes only allow for one way communication where as NFC can communicate both ways between two devices or even rewrite the information on an NFC tag if permitted to do so. Businesses may find this level of interaction more appealing, but the costs of NFC are currently higher than implementing QR codes.

What has really drawn organizations and companies to NFC over QR codes is the technology’s potential. NFC lets users make purchases at a cash register with their smartphones and connect their phone with a friend’s phone to share information or links. QR codes remain static and cannot perform any of these actions.

No winner exists in the QR code versus NFC debate. It all comes down to the goal of the organization and the intended medium. A company who wants users to visit a website after viewing their advertisements can paste a QR code at the bottom of the ad. A business who wants to offer customers contactless payment methods would opt for NFC technology. Time will tell whether NFC wins out over QR codes or whether they both thrive together, each playing off the strengths and weaknesses of the other.