Discussion on QR Codes vs. NFC

Discussion on QR Codes vs. NFC

Those of you who caught Mark Greenfield, Kyle James, and myself on HigherEd Live back in March might recall a brief conversation we had about whether QR codes were more hype than useful. QR codes are an interesting topic that many people either seem really on board with, or really opposed to. Tuesday, Seth Odell brought up the question on Twitter of NFC vs. QR codes over the next five years (Wondering what NFC is? It stands for Near Field Communication. Here’s how it involves RFID.) A very interesting conversation then took place between him, Chris Wiegman, and I that I thought was worth sharing.

Some abbreviated takeaways:

  • NFC and QR are different technologies with unique applications, I don’t believe it is fair to discuss them in terms of strict apples-to-apples comparisons.
  • NFC has production limitations related to RFID tags it must overcome. QR codes need nothing but a printer and add virtually no cost. Not true for NFC.
  • Problems inherent with the use of QR codes deal more with underlying marketing strategy, not the technology. This problem isn’t solved by new technology.
  • People that will benefit the most from the use of NFC will be the ones that understand how it compliments QR, and how both technologies extend mobile in different ways.

The following conversation (which you’ll have to use the “Load More” link at the bottom a couple times to get the second and third part of the discussion) has been linearized a tad differently than it took place, to keep some concepts grouped together for readability. Twitter can result in some dang fragmented lines of reasoning when you get multiple people talking about something, believe it or not. I’ve also inserted a few additional thoughts of my own in line, with some helpful links. Feel free to continue the conversation in our comments section below, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue.

Finally, I have no idea why Seth’s avatar came through as a sexy lady in a bikini. But I suppose it is an improvement.


Photo Credit: cc icon attribution small Discussion on QR Codes vs. NFCcc icon noncomm small Discussion on QR Codes vs. NFCcc icon sharealike small Discussion on QR Codes vs. NFC Some rights reserved by scott_bl8ke


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near field communications, nfc, qr, qr code, rfid

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This post was written by:

Michael Fienen

Michael Fienen - who has written 78 posts on .eduGuru

Michael joined Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, KS (NOT Pennsylvania, they spell it wrong anyway) in 2006 and is currently the Director of Web Marketing.  He is also CTO for the interactive map provider nuCloud. Web development's role in interpersonal communication is a principle focus of his efforts to improve and enhance higher ed web commodities.  He is an active supporter of the dotCMS community, accessibility advocate, freelance consultant, frequent speaker at web events, and general purpose geek who wears many hats.  Read his complete bio.

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  • https://dmolsen.com Dave Olsen

    It’s a little difficult to have a serious argument about QR codes & NFC (note i didn’t say vs) before NFC makes it into more devices and there are clear ways to access it or not access it. The NFC argument is basically conjecture and QR codes are more based on hype than, at least from what I’ve seen, actual use. In two recent projects our use of text messaging for sharing links did better than QR codes. See my article on the results.

    To me, QR codes are probably a solution still in search of a problem that can’t already be handled by easier, more ubiquitous solutions (e.g. text messaging or just writing out the web address). It just doesn’t seem effective currently.

    On NFC… if it’s possible to let a mobile device passively listen and then alert a user to info provided by tags then it’s a big step up from QR codes and a user *having* to take action. Obviously it’s still tied to physical locations as opposed to marketing pieces. I’m actually interesting in NFC as a credential/profile store for students. A student ID in their phone, perhaps?

    At the very least it was an interesting argument :)

  • https://www.fienen.com/ Michael Fienen

    Passive NFC is ultimately a pipe dream, IMO. If battery life doesn’t get you, security will. I mention above the other challenge of what happens the first time someone walks past a magazine of bulletin board with 50 RFID tags on it? That’s the problem with passive pull technology like that. And as soon as you make it on demand, you’ve created the same hurdles that QR has. And while I am in agreement that the potential of NFC as a digital wallet are appealing, that ventures into a totally different territory from QR.

  • Dave Olsen

    After some research it doesn’t look like battery life is the killer for “passive NFC” but the effective range probably is. In their NFC docs Google says the effective range is 4cm. Wikipedia offers up .2m (~8in) which isn’t a whole lot better. At 4cm a user will have to take an action to get the phone in range to take advantage of the feature and then it’s obviously no longer really passive.

    That being said, I spent a little bit of time trying to dig up videos of apps developed for NFC on Android to better learn how it might be used. In this one demo it looks like the second phone is “passive” and prompted to do something with the incoming NFC request (original article. The docs seem to hint at this possibility as well. The user still had to have the ‘app’ installed to handle it but having the appropriate target app rather than an intermediate “reader” probably makes that sort of feature a winner over QR codes. Think being prompted for or swiping for foursquare check-ins.At least you couldn’t easily get attacked by all those posters ;) Thanks for posting the original discussion because I wouldn’t have dug through the info to learn more about the topic.

  • https://www.facebook.com/marthagabriel Martha Gabriel

    Very interesting discussion. Thank you, Michael for sharing and for your thoughts.

    I do agree with the you that QRcode and NFC aren’t “vs” each other, but complement each other. Also, I agre with all your argments. I would like to add one more difference between them - NFC needs you to be near (centimeters) to the target to work. QRcodes can be scanned from very near (centimeters) and also from very far away - 10 meters, for example.

    I am a fan of QRcodes and I disagree from Dave about they not having interesting uses. I have been studing, presenting and using mobile tags for 3 year now and I have several interesting examples beyond marketing where they can be used improving interacion, creating community and allowing transmedia transitions. For example - my last book “Marketing in the Digital Era” uses QRcode in the whole book to create links to online videos and examples while you are reading it - so, QRcodes allow the creation of a digital printed book. Also, I used a QRcode on the cover of the book that takes you the index and allows you to search online for the subjects you want showing in which pages they are. The book was lauched in december here in Brazil and I have been receiving many and many feedback from readers that are loving this kind of interaction. This is one example that is perfect suitable for QRcodes and wouldn’t be for NFC.

    I really like these new mobile technologies and love to hear new thought on that. Thank you so much again.