What will replace QR codes in the future? Many tech prognosticators expect that NFC (near field communications) will be the next big thing. But exactly what is NFC technology?
An NFC tag (or sticker) contains a microchip that can cause an NFC-enabled device to execute a variety of tasks when the device either touches or is placed within a few centimeters of the tag. The device communicates with the NFC tag by radio frequency. Common applications for NFC tags include payments (very popular use), changing of device settings (volume, turning functions on and off, etc.), and launching calls, programs, information transfer and websites. The possibilities for “wave and go” transactions, check-ins and data distribution and exchange are fantastic for use at events. As you might expect, NFC requires some hardware investment, mainly for chips, to implement.
By contrast, QR codes are activated by a visual interface (such as an app) that scans the checkerboard-like code with a mobile device’s camera and executes a function such as launching a website, dialing a phone number, sending a text message, or transferring information to the mobile device. A QR code does not require a communication connection (like radio frequency for NFC tags) to work. Other than the cost of printing QR codes, these codes can usually be generated for free on a number of QR code generator sites and the only hardware required is users’ phones.
There are a number of issues that need to be considered when integrating NFC technology into your marketing:
- iProblems. iPhones up through generation 5 do NOT include NFC capability. One of the estimates I saw of American smartphone ownership held by Apple’s iOS operating system (prior to launch of iPhone 5) was in the 35% range, with Android operating system phones (all brands combined) comprising around half of the smartphone ownership pool. So even if a next generation of NFC-enabled iPhone bursts onto the scene, you will be alienating a large chunk of smartphone owners by only offering NFC tags as a way to connect or provide information. Not every iPhone owner will flock to get a new NFC-enabled phone.
- Expense. Currently, the cost to buy generic NFC tag stickers in retail is around $1 to $3 USD. If the NFC tag is used on a one-to-many promotion such as a sign at a trade show booth, the cost is almost a non-factor. However, if you plan to distribute products or promotions with NFC tags, the cost can run up quickly. As a side note, at present, very few promotional products actually offer NFC chip options.
- Security Issues. Because of the communication aspect of NFC tags, information transfer security could be a factor that most marketers will not wish to deal with.
I think my bias against NFC tags, at least right now, is pretty obvious. But if it makes sense for your particular market and purpose, just make sure that you’ve considered all of the above issues and that you’ve provided an alternative way to connect by providing—you guessed it—a QR code and your printed website address or contact information.
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