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NFC vs. QR codes – a much discussed battle!


Near Field Communication (NFC) is a short-range wireless connectivity technology that enables data transfer through a simple touch of devices, allowing compatible devices within a few centimetres of each other to communicate with each other. Most people in the London will have used the technology with their London Oyster transport card which uses NFC chips. Quick Response (QR) technology (2D Datamatrix barcodes) is a type barcode that can be read by any smart-phone through the phone’s camera and a generic, free app that decodes the barcode into data.

In the past 6 months a debate has been growing over whether NFC technology will kill QR codes. NFC offers a more user-friendly interaction with simpler and fewer user steps for interaction (just touch two things together). A comparison of the two technologies makes sense because they both offer a way to trigger interactive content on mobile phones.

Journalists and bloggers wordwide are joining in the NFC/QR debate but many often miss the crucial arguments in the debate. In this blog, I’ll take a look over the pro’s and con’s of NFC over QR and argue why I think NFC is a complimentary technology, not a replacement. I’ll take a logical look to the industry and predictions within it.


Infrastructure: NFC technology requires special “initiator” hardware that creates an NFC field searching for a “target”, a NFC chip that holds data for the device to pick up. It is thought that iPhone5’s and future iPad’s will have NFC initiators built into them and various mobile operating systems are starting to add NFC capability, ready for any hardware that supports it. QR codes use the camera already in the phone and only need a small “QR reader” app to enable the device to support the technology. There are thousands of free QR apps available for almost all phones on the market and some phones (e.g. Some Blackberries) come with a pre-installed QR reader. In the near future, it’s reasonable to expect that the mobile operating systems will start including QR readers as standard on all phones.

Reach: There are still very few phones that support NFC on the market and I only come across the phones at specialised exhibitions or when I’m talking to NFC experts. The predictions are however that the availability will change very quickly. Reports state that 10-15% of phones on the market will support NFC next year – but – how many people will have these phones? My guess is that it will take 2-4 years before enough people have changed their phones over to an NFC enabled device.

Production & Implementation: To implement NFC a publisher must embed a NFC chip into every target (thing that someone should interact with). For things like Point of Sale displays and Travel Information Points, NFC will become a logical solution to implement. For direct-mail/business card type applications, where many items are handed out at a low cost, NFC will add a significant cost. It will be interesting to see what NFC Printing systems come onto the market and what cost will be associated with NFC chips as demand increases. At the moment, each chip is sold wholesale for between £0.40 (if you buy 10,000) and £20.00 (bought individually). Publishers will also need an encoding device (to write the data onto NFC chips), but this can already be done by most of the NFC phones. Generating QR codes is simple once you have a generator (a library of code that generates the image from text you enter). QR codes can then be printed for free, quickly and easily. The barriers to adding QR codes are really very low.

Remember: content is King

People forget that content is king when they start working with new exciting technologies. NFC and QR both offer great new ways to encourage users to look at content, but the content itself and design/layout of the content is the most important thing. For NFC and QR it is vital that the content that is linked (regardless of which technology it’s linked with) is immediately relevant and that the content is optimised for the user’s device so that it works well on all the mobile devices in the market. For both NFC and QR this means not just opening a generic non-mobile-optimised homepage, but making as much effort on the “what” as the “how”.

QR and NFC both have their own strengths

I see one revolutionising way that NFC will be implemented: Mobile Payments. The large players (Google, Paypal, Visa, Intuit and a host of others) are getting behind NFC as a payment method. A recent study predicted that NFC mobile payments would grow from a £0 to a $50 billion industry by 2014. The fact that everyone will get used to the user interaction of NFC because of this does give NFC a boost.

Outside mobile payments, it’s foreseeable that NFC will take over some of the applications of QR codes. Point of Sale displays, tourist information points, travel information at stations – applications where one NFC chip will be scanned by many. However, I see a future for QR codes too. The notion that NFC will wipe out the printing industry is flawed, and I believe QR codes will continue to thrive in the printing industry. It will become as easy to scan a QR code as it is to touch an NFC tag.

The difference between the two won’t be as big as people say

Looking at both technologies in a demo comparison today and most people are impressed with the NFC interactions. Step forward 2-3 years however (when NFC becomes feasible to use in mainstream advertisements) and there are two factors:

a)       QR codes will be much easier to scan. Smart phones will have better cameras (which are the factor holding back fast QR scanning on the older phones). QR reading software will be built into the phone’s camera software, meaning no special app is required.

b)       NFC will need security features to safeguard against eavesdropping devices. Imagine you have NFC turned on while on a train and someone standing next to you simply holds a device within a few centimetres of your phone and pulls all your data off it. This type of security problem will mean users need to “turn on NFC”, which is the same process as turning on a phone’s camera. The difference in usability is then reduced to “touching the phone” rather than “pointing the phone’s camera”.

The future for people who have invested in QR like we have

I’m sure many people using QR for business has come across the question “what will you do when NFC comes along?”. Our company has invested in building our platforms that deliver turn-key professional QR code applications. However, 99% of what makes our platforms so good is content management and content delivery, *not*the QR generation element.

Anyone who has made an effort to create clever QR marketing applications/campaigns could quickly add a MStags, NFC chips, JagTags or any other “link” to the system. QRky could add MSTag as a print-option by linking a simple API into the platform. We could offer the option of ordering your own NFC tag with a few days time investment.  We may well do so, once we see NFC taking off.

Companies that rely on the code itself to win customers are just riding the wave of the uneducated customer, charging customers for something they can get for free. They had a short-term future anyway. Nothing is lost. If they offer something genuinely useful on top of QR code generation and simple tracking, the chances are that a tweak to integrate NFC or any other technology is relatively simple. And the cost of implementing NFC in an application is very small compared to the cost of setting up the backend infrastructure that may be required to support it. The people that will benefit most from NFC will be the ones that have experience and understanding in QR technology, and understand how both technologies have different strengths and weaknesses.

Written by Nicolas Holzherr, MD of QRky Ltd, who attended SXSW 2011 in Austin Texas.

Silicon Valley approaches to start-ups are actually quite similar to the UK, but they focus on a few aspects that could be key.

Last week I returned from South by Southwest (SXSW), an interactive, music and film festival that is seen by many as the international conference where the best technology companies network and learn from each other. Twitter and FourSquare both launched at SXSW, Tim Ferris launched his career by presenting his Four Hour Work Week book – the list goes on. Companies like Google and Mashable compete to hold the best parties where everything is complimentary, trying to woo the world’s top tech talent.

After a week of catching up with that I missed while I was away in Austin, Texas, I had some time to reflect about what the real differences between the “Silicon Valley Tech Crowd” and the “Birmingham Tech Crowd” really are. Why are there so many successful tech companies from Silicon Valley and so few (large) ones from Birmingham, or the UK in general?

Key learning points I took away from SXSW that I can implement

–         Design over functionality

This is the most important lesson I’ve learnt from attending SXSW. As a company founder it is so easy to focus on building the best functionality possible and start your company by building code. However, you’re set for a hard, gruelling path of constantly needing to re-work your code and re-design your front-end as you slowly realise what you’ve left out.

What the Silicon Valley Crowd would do: First mock everything up with a Wireframing tool and write some user stories (we use GoMockingBird.com). Talk to your prospective users with your wireframes and see if they agree you have what they would use and see all your features as necessary. Then, decide your branding and start designing your platform with an image editor (We use Adobe Photoshop) and show it to your prospective users again. Now, you can start building some code, but just the front end HTML/Javascript. Show your users again, see how users interact with your design. Once you’re totally happy that this will work really well, start coding. The coding will be a lot less time consuming and expensive because everyone sees exactly what’s expected.  You’ll also have your nice-looking prototype ready much sooner so you can start showing investors, mums and friends what you’ve given up your full-time well-paid job for much sooner.

It’s easy to agree with the concept that design should be the primary focus but it’s really hard to implement it.  At QRky we’ve invested heavily in technology but have always done the design on a more ad-hock basis. Only recently have we started investing more heavily in design and the service is starting to look much “prettier”. Customers purchase pretty systems, not necessarily the ones with the best functions. I’m guilty of being such a customer – I pay for prettier CRM systems rather than use free ones that arnt so enjoyable to use. I pay £30 a month for our Xero accounting system – primarily because it looks nice and it encourages me to do accounting.

Apple have seen huge success by simply making their product look good. When they started with the MP3 player (iPod), their product wasn’t the best functionality wise – it looked the best. They then improved their technology because they could afford to invest in it – because everyone was buying their product – because it looked pretty.

Good design leads to good revenue which leads to good sustainable functionality (because you can invest in it) – and your innovation will be build around what users think – because you have users to listen to when you innovate.

–         Measure Measure Measure

The second key element is analytics – the Silicon Crowd put analytics as one of the biggest priorities. “Analyse everything” people say again and again. The key is to break down analytics into the individual steps a user goes through so you can get a real understanding of where you’re service is working and where it’s not. When you’re analysing traffic to your site, don’t just analyse hits and bounce rates, analyse Acquisition rates from different sources, Conversion rates into paying customers (if you’re using a Freemium model), Engagement (Once they’re using your service), Satisfaction and Feature use (this is by no means an exhaustive list). Once you’re collecting this data you’ll very quickly see where you’re problems lie and be able to fix them. Tools that are used frequently to help with this data include Google Analytics, www.kissmetrics.com and www.mixpanel.com.

Things we can’t do anything about

–         Investment:

Money seems to be much more freely available in Silicon Valley. The key seems to be that investors “get it”. They are tech savvy, often ex-tech-entrepreneurs who really understand the tech. In the UK there are only few investors who have a solid grip on technology – most understand physical product or bricks and mortar businesses better. I think a logical reason for this is that most investors have grey hairs and computers were only just in their infancy when they learnt the way the world works.

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The next step is to start A/B testing every font-end change you make. See what effect your new homepage or new user flow has on your figures. If it’s negative, go back to what you had. For some information about how that works – see http://bit.ly/SplitTestQRky . Its all about quick iterations and tests.

The key thought I came away from SXSW with was that the Silicon Valley crowd don’t have any “super special powers” that we can’t compete with, their only advantage is their focus. That’s something we can learn from.  The discussions on issues that start-up founders are facing are the same. I came back with encouragement that, if we have the right idea and right focus, we can create the next Facebook, Twitter or Google here in the UK.

How to Web

November 10, 2010 2010, November, Uncategorized Comments

Last week Simon and Nick headed over to Bucharest in Romania for the How to Web conference.

QRky had been nominated for the Startup Challenge award and had been invited to a do a pitch in front of the 450 delegates and then have a 15 minute feedback session with a panel of high profile judges including Doug Richards, Reshma Sohani and Katy Turner to name a few.

This was a great experience and we received some invaluable feedback that you will soon see rolled out with QRky.

One of the best parts of going to the conference was meeting the people involved in the Romanian tech scene. There is an abundance of highly skilled, intelligent men and women who are working on some fantastic tech start ups. A couple of our favourites are Palkoo and Squeeqly and we recommend you check these out.

There were a number of great keynote speakers, with our personal favourite being Mark Randall who gave an inspiring talk about starting up your business and boosting it’s success. One of the main points that we would push to other people are testing your market as soon as possible and start to sell very early on in the life of the business to ensure that there is a market for what you are doing before you make an investment in a complete product build.

A huge thank you goes out to the organisers of the event and the attendees who made us feel very welcome and we had a fantastic time. If the How to Web conference happens against next year we would highly recommend to people from all over the world as it was a fantastic experience.

QRky has seen some excellent growth as of late and we have to attribute some of that to the support we have received from two Birmingham based incubator schemes; BSEEN and Entrepreneurs for the Future, both based at Birmingham Science Park Aston.

As entrepreneurs we depend on low fixed costs, support and networking. These incubators provide this with free rent, experienced mentors and a number of hosted networking events. It is the perfect platform and helped us to expand to the next stage.

This blog post is our way of saying thank you to the teams that run both and to recommend any entrepreneurs that are looking to start out to look for incubators in your local area and use them.

Last week QRky implemented our technology on conference badges for our very first time and we chose the Hello Digital event; described by the Birmingham Post as a “number of major digital events in Birmingham which are bringing some of the highest profile business and government advisers to the city”.

Working closely with the event organisers, QRky generated individual QR codes for every attendee at the conference and seamlessly integrated them into the usual badge printing process run by the Event Management company. It was a great success with attendees scanning each other’s badges and making lasting connections.

We pre-populated the account with the basic contact details for each person and gave attendees the opportunity to add their digital content to their codes using individual usernames and passwords which were emailed our the day before.  It was great to see how many people logged in to add content.

The take up in the event management industry has been encouraging. Offering our services in this industry was never in our original business plan and to-date we’ve done zero marketing to the sector. Despite this, we’re booked to include our technology at the ICT Cluster conference in November and have been contacted by a number of event organisers to discuss the use of our technology.

As a response to this demand, part of the new system upgrade  includes a bespoke Event Management panel and we’ll be integrating some event booking platforms such as EventBrite soon. With this, and with Hello Digital as an excellent case study for how QRky can work at a conference, we’ll also be starting to market to event companies – so watch out for QRky barcodes on event badges near you soon!

Among fellow companies we’ve built up a reputation for staying ahead of the game using cutting edge technology. Our soon-to-be-released platform re-build is not only more robust, fast and flexible, but brings with it a whole host of new features and functionality.

Other than our new design, the bulk of our second major update release consists of an entire new backend platform (that is invisible to the user, but powers our functionality). Our current software platform has been with us from the start and is something we’ve worked on tirelessly since we started 6 months ago. We have a strong focus on acting on client feedback and through it our platform has evolved and expanded.

Data architecture is a very important element in system design, especially when software is scaled up to handle many users. With each incremental change to our original platform we had to work around our original data architecture. Our next “big feature” is robust security: only allowing visitors to view content if they have visited the content via the QRky barcode while maintaining a smooth user experience without any prompts for passwords. We’ve also had many requests from organizations wishing to “manage” multiple users at the same time. For these reasons, we’ve spent the last two months recoding our entire backend system in a PHP framework called CodeIgniter, and with it, we’ve added in a whole host of new features.

Our new system is much much faster: Profiles load in a few milliseconds compared to a few seconds, which on a mobile using 3G, matters. We’ll be releasing a whole new level of Mobile Optimisation, catering for many older phones that previously had trouble viewing online sites. Blackberry users, we’ve got a whole section of code built for you. We’ve also built an entirely new backend system to allow larger organizations and event organizers to manage users in mass.  Our new system is also much more flexible and we’ve built it to suit a host of new integrations we’ve got planned in the coming months – so watch this space!

Release date? End of next week, along with the launch of our new office.

QRky friends

October 21, 2010 Uncategorized Comments

In our first six months we have met some great companies and some inspiring entrepreneurs. Not only have we been lucky to meet them, but also lucky enough to work with them. To show our appreciation we thought we would have a quick chat with a couple to find out what makes them tick, what they are working on and how they find working with QRky.

First up are Ember Television a bright and exciting company specialising in video creation.  They have done some excellent work recently revolving around video tweets and social media application of video content.

Catherine Allen, Managing Director, at Ember Television sent us a couple of comments on how she currently finds working with QRky.

How easy it is to setup your QRky profile?

It was really, really easy to set up our QRky profile, it took about 2 minutes.

How have people reacted to your codes?

As the code, and awareness of it is spreading so rapidly, lots of our target client base and stakeholders already have a QR reader app installed on their phones. This means it is increasingly easy for the code to integrate seamlessly with everyday life and networking.

For a full view on how Catherine and Ember Television have worked with QRky check out our website.

Secondly, Birmingham Science Park – Aston (BSP-A) the centre for tech entrepreneurism in Birmingham.

We caught up with Simon Jenner, Head of Incubation in the Entrepreneur for the Future (E4F) Business Incubator at BSP-A to see how the tech scene in Birmingham is progressing and how the E4F scheme is supporting entrepreneurs.

What does E4F offer entrepreneurs and start up businesses?

The E4F scheme is housed in BSP-A, a state of the art serviced office facility in the heart of Birmingham. E4F participants get six months of free office space with free access to wifi, telephones, and meeting rooms. Being a hub for small business there are a number of events that are held each month that allow businesses to network and attend conferences and events ranging from Tech Wednesday, an informal networking session held every Wednesday, to guest speakers such as Reshma Sehani from Seedcamp who is presenting this week.

Our huge networks in Birmingham, and the Midlands, allows us to provide professional advice to our small businesses in fields such as law, accounting and investment advice. Partnering this with a successful mentoring scheme and E4F has a number of businesses that are currently securing finance from investor groups who have strong relations with the Science Park.

How has BSP-A benefited from using QRky?

Being involved in the tech industry we understood how QR codes work and have been looking for the best way to include them in our business. Working with QRky has given us an excellent outlet to showcase what we do and improve our image as a forward thinking organisation that understands the tech industry.

We are really impressed with the ease of set up and managing our company profiles, and have also been surprised by the number of people that already understand how to use our QRky codes. We attend a lot of networking events and having QRky cards has definitely improved our networking.

This is just two of our most recent customers, we haven’t got space to write about everyone that we work with, but we are constantly updating our website with case studies.

If you would like to be included as a case study let us know and we will be more than happy to help.

Apping About

October 14, 2010 2010, October Comments

One of our favourite past times is downloading and trying out new apps. It’s what makes using smartphones so fun and so addictive.

Team QRky all wanted the distinctive orange Q on their homepage to show the full functionality of our QRky codes. So we built our own Android App and are currently Beta testing our iPhone app.

Sneak preview: the new QRky iPhone app.

Andy, Captain Coder, has some experience writing Android apps, so it was a logical place to start. He took full advantage of Google code libraries and within a few weeks a fully-fledged App was launched with great success.

We have had almost 9,000 downloads and a 4.5/5 star rating on the app store – the highest ranked scanner on the market.

With the success of our Android app we were motivated to crack on with our app development plans; next stop the iPhone.

For this task we drafted in Scott, a friend of ours, who has a wealth of experience writing iPhone apps and is flown all around the world to give talks on different tech areas.

Scott promises us that he is creating the fastest scanner on the market, and not to get too technical it will take 5 pictures per second and analyses these on the fly; resulting in ultra-fast scanning and load times. The current beta testers all say that Scott is living up to his promise and the app is far superior to any scanner currently available.

The iPhone app is receiving its final tweeks and will be submitted to Apple in the next two weeks and we will update you when it hits the store. If you want a sneak preview grab Simon and he will happily show you his beta version.

Blackberry users watch this space. Your app is being planned as we speak (or type) and should be with you before Christmas.

Team QRky

October 14, 2010 2010, October, Uncategorized Comments

Not many tech companies can say they were created because of an experiment involving coffee cups.

We, QRky, was founded when Nicolas Holzherr and Simon McCann put QR codes on the takeaway coffee cups of their first business, Co-Go Coffee to Go, to give customers access to an online questionnaire.

From there the two have been working on creating a profiling system and management panel that is now the base of what we offer.

This being our first blog post we thought it only right to introduce you to the team that have taken QRky from coffee cup experiment to Birmingham’s most exciting tech start-up.

Simon and Nick at the recent BSEEN tech showcase

Nicolas Holzherr    Founder + Chief Tech

Nick is the kind of guy that will happily spend his whole life glued to his computer. Luckily for QRky, and unluckily for his girlfriend, he does.

Nick is the tech brains that has lead the product development of QRky, checking the feasibility of new functions and then finding a way of implementing such a feature. With his team of developers Nick is often found in the QRky ideas garden with a coffee (white Americano no sugar) and whiteboard pens drawing infrastructure diagrams and penning out new exciting features for the team to work on.

Simon McCann  Founder + Chief Money

Simon used to be an accountant and wishes he never had to admit to it. Luckily for QRky, and unluckily for him, it’s true.

Simon balances the books and works on making sure we can give our customers the best possible service. He has been banished from the ideas garden so you will now find him in the office with a coffee (double espresso no sugar) usually playing around with an Excel spreadsheet full of numbers.

Tech Team. Andy and Jansar in the QRky office

Andy Robinson  Captain Coder

Andy is the lead developer at QRky and brings with him a wealth of experience.

He has worked on a number of start ups and is in charge of implementing the ideas that the team dreams up. He is the man that makes things work – and if something goes wrong (which it never does) he is their to fix it, although he will never say it was his fault!

Jansar Mahmood  Design Demon

Jansar is Andy’s right hand man and together they make a formidable team.

Jansar is in charge of building the front-end of the site. All the nice little tricks and movements is down to Jansar’s little bit of magic. Andy and Jansaar are often found together working out new tricks and tip bits to add to the site to give the best user-experience possible.

Who’s next……

We are growing quickly so watch this space to find out who the newest Team QRky recruit is.