News Update :

The Mobile Future--QR or NFC?

Monday, February 28, 2011

One of my students recently attended the mobile unconference in Boston and sent back dispatches from the field—thanks, Mike! One talked about QR codes and NFC tags. I wasn’t sure what the difference what the difference was, so I thought I should find out.

I’ve seen QR codes around for awhile. This is a shot from a Google Places page I maintain that invites me to “Share Your Place Page with Customers.” When you print out the QR code poster, this is what you get—a simple poster to place in the window. When a mobile phone with the appropriate reader (free here and, of course, on the iTunes store) is trained on the code, it links to the Place Page and the business information it contains. The QR code is a bar code that is read by the mobile reader--technology we’re all familiar with.

Ok, that’s great—so what is a NFC tag. NFC stands for near field communications; cutting through the techno-speak that means wireless connectivity. It’s hard to find a non-technical definition of NFC tags. I’ll settle from for this phrase from the NFC forum: “short-range wireless interaction in consumer electronics, mobile devices and PCs.” That phrase on their home page links to a nice non-technical explanation. The graphic shows what the two types of tags look like, but it’s not helpful in understanding the differences. It comes from a video on this site which has nice music but no narration!

This video is useful; it uses a scenario to explain what NFC tags can do. It comes from the University of Munich (in 2005!). Sincere thanks to the professors there for posting it in layman’s English! You really need to take the 5 minutes to watch the video and understand the potential power of this technology!

Everything I read while researching this admits that NFC codes are way cooler and have the potential to do more than QR codes. QR codes are, however, easy to create and for the consumer to use as my Google Places example shows. NFC codes require devices (likely mobile phones) to have built in NFC chips. Not many have it at present, especially in the US. The ones that do appear to be pricey. For now it appears that we’ll need to keep an eye on the NFC trials taking place in Europe, so we need to once again thank our colleagues there for leading the way into the mobile future!
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