How QR codes are getting a foothold in the West

The long moaned technology from Japan in gaining ground in US and Europe.

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In this edition

🤔 Apple might make QR codes go mainstream

🤙 After Zoom, there might be an mmhmm craze

💬 Other tech, media & podcasting news

How QR codes are getting a foothold in the West

📸 by Apple

A nearly overlooked report from 9to5Mac said Apple is working on QR Code payments for Apple Pay.

References found in the iOS 14 code reveal that Apple is working on a new method for letting users make payments with Apple Pay by scanning a QR Code or traditional barcode with the iPhone camera.

We’ve managed to access this feature hidden in iOS 14 beta 2, and although it still doesn’t work, we can clearly see an image showing how it will work. Users will point the iPhone camera at a QR Code or traditional barcode to pay bills and other things with a card registered with Apple Pay.

The opposite would also work, with users holding the iPhone in front of a scanner with a QR Code generated by the Wallet app. We can also say that there will be some kind of interaction with third-party apps, as this code was found in a public system API.

And I thought this could be huge news. First, some history so that we are on the same page.

The history and evolution of QR codes in less uninteresting than I thought. First designed to be used in the automotive industry in Japan in 1994 (by Masahiro Hara), QR codes or Quick Response codes quickly spread to other areas.

Reason? Fast readability and greater storage capacity compared to standard UPC barcodes. Not going to go into technical details, though they are fascinating, it’s a pretty clever system.

QR codes everywhere

In China, the use of QR codes thanks to WeChat seems like an everyday thing. People use it regularly - to pay, find out more information, or exchange profile information.

India is slowly adopting QR codes, as is the US and Europe. QR codes have been around for a while and never taken off. One of the reasons could be the voices like Gary Vaynerchuck who actively discouraged companies not to use them.

Are QR codes the best? No. And they are quite ugly. Though the question should be: Can QR codes make your life simpler? Hell, yeah!

Today, you can see more and more examples of QR-like codes:

  • Spotify Codes: a QR-like “scannable” tag that can be used to quickly share or access a piece of content within Spotify.

  • Twitter profiles have the option to generate QR codes.

  • Pay by square is probably the most common use of QR codes in these parts of the world.

  • Amazon uses QR codes for identifying customers when entering Amazon Go groceries.

  • Developers tend to use them sometimes to drive app installs.

  • QR codes can be useful for podcasters.

  • I mean, the list of uses is quite long.

  • And now Apple thinks QR codes are worth investing in.

QR codes are ugly

I am not sure why Spotify has its own QR codes, would bet it is because the original ones are pretty ugly. And the same might be true for Apple, as it recently announced App Clips (almost like progressive web apps, not to be confused with Apple Clips).

The promise of App Clips is to get a single-use small app (up to 10 MB) which does one thing really well and quickly - order a coffee or par for the parking. Clips can be activated in various ways - via standard QR codes, with an NFC tag or visual codes (Apple-specific QR-like codes just rounded).

How will Apple help QR codes take off

The news from the beginning of this newsletter - Apple is working on QR Code payments for Apple Pay - means there will be no replacing this global standard even though Tim Cook & Co. would be happier with something that is designed better and more pleasant to look at.

I think Apple making the option to pay with QR codes within the Apple Wallet app is a huge signal to the market: Use QR codes, we will know how to read them.

Like Apple, I am not a big fan of how the QR codes look like, the design is functional but not by any measure nice. Though I am a big fan of how convenient the technology is.

I don’t suppose our environment will get flooded by QR codes anytime soon. Looking at adoption among different age groups there will need to be a learning curve, especially among older generations.

Truly curious to see how this develops, there are still many skeptics saying QR codes are not a good idea. My opinion is that once big tech incorporates QR codes in meaningful ways (not like just a shareable profile pic, but something actually useful), we will start seeing them used by businesses and then people will learn to use them.

Of course, I can be wrong and QR codes will turn out to be a bad idea. Though there is a ton of evidence from Asia that it is just working. But first WeChat had to “force it on users”.

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In other news

TECH

😜 Turn your videochat presentation into LastWeekTonight with John Oliver. From the former CEO of Evernote comes a new product, called mmhmm. Because as he put it (jokingly) you should be able to say it while eating. The app just raised $4.5 million and honestly, after watching the preview video (see below) I just want to use it now and forever. As my podcast co-host, Ondrej wrote to me regarding the app, this could be a great tool for YouTubers. Either way, I want it and once I get my hands on the beta I will be using it for every call. Curious about the UI. If it holds up the scrutiny and high expectations it is setting up, it will become very popular. [The Verge]

👨‍💻 Hong Kong & Tech: What is happening? Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, Twitter, and some other digital companies are temporarily stopping handing over people’s information when the authorities in Hong Kong ask for it. That’s all because of a new law coming from China, which human-rights activists argue would extend China’s internet censorship and digital surveillance to Hong Kong. [The New York Times]

⚔️ Media vs. Tech. I spent the last week trying to figure out what was happening on tech Twitter and the buzzy audio-only invite-only Clubhouse app. And after reading many takes (not going to list them here, you would just go down the Twitter-hole and you don’t want that), if you are still interested, the best writeup comes from Casey Newton of The Verge in his The Interface newsletter - part 1 and part 2.

  • The main takeaway for me: This particular Twitter fight, on the one hand, did not show anything new in terms of how powerful people like to bully the media. On the other hand, showed us how there is again a lack of clear community rules and many moderation issues with an upstart making noise in Silicon Valley. Yes, build new things but never sacrifice user safety, well being, and privacy. We have got too many of those issues on our hands just now.

🤦‍♂️ Another bad week for Facebook. First, the meeting with the boycott organizers did not go well. After that, an independent audit faulted the social network for allowing hate speech and disinformation to thrive — potentially posing a threat to the November elections. [The New York Times]

“Elevating free expression is a good thing, but it should apply to everyone,” the auditors wrote. “When it means that powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules that everyone else does, a hierarchy of speech is created that privileges certain voices over less powerful voices.”

They added, “The prioritization of free expression over all other values, such as equality and nondiscrimination, is deeply troubling.”

In a series of recommendations, the auditors said Facebook needed to build a more robust civil rights infrastructure. They added that Facebook needed to be consistent in its policies and its enforcement, including “more concrete action and specific commitments to take steps to address concerns about algorithmic bias or discrimination.”

  • On the other hand, Instagram has possible a great week. After India banned TikTok and other Chinese apps last week, Instagram quickly announced it is expanding the TikTok-lookalike called Reels (which lives inside the Instagram app) into India. [TechCrunch]

❓ What happens after the corona-crisis? Well, many things will change I guess. Among others, analysts will update their forecasts. As one such example, here is Benedict Evans with an updated macro trends deck. As he put it in short: forced experimentation and years of progress in weeks. [Benedict Evans]

😮 July 27th - the big tech reckoning, or maybe not. Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg will appear before the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee as part of its probe into the companies. They will be allowed to appear virtually but I hope they will come and we will get a legendary group photo. [Reuters]

Garmin thinks the future of smartwatches is solar charging. In other words - unlimited battery life. I am in, hope this idea spreads to other products and companies as well. [Wired]


MEDIA

🥝 New Zealand's Stuff newspaper group joins Facebook boycott as an 'experiment'. That means no Facebook ads, posts (even FB groups are archived) and the same goes for the Instagram accounts. Full-on stop. Per deputy editor Janine Fenwick this is an experiment. And I guess it will be closely watched (Two years ago the biggest Brazilian newspaper quit Facebook but I couldn’t find any lessons learned, if you know of something, let me know). Stuff is the biggest news media website in New Zealand and owns dozens of newspapers around the country, employing more than 400 journalists. [The Guardian]

🎥 Hamilton on Disney+ FTW. The streaming platform saw a 74% increase in app downloads over the weekend because of Hamilton’s release (the musical movie of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s reimagining of the founding father’s life). This again shows something Netflix has seen again and again - good programming brings new users and drives subscriptions. Something, Quibi can only dream about (seriously, read that piece on Quibi, it’s superb). [Variety]

🛠️ Toolbox - a series on digital tools used by different publishers. I wrote the first part focusing on my employer. The series aims to help you pick tools based on their use cases by different publishers rather than throwing a bunch of “best newsroom tools” for this and that at you. Check it out and let me know what you think or if you work for a newsroom and want to participate, reach out. [The Fix]


PODCASTS

🎙️ Spotify’s ‘Sandra’ podcast goes global. OK, this is super interesting: In April 2018, Gimlet (now a Spotify company) launched Sandra, a seven-part fictional drama depicting a world where artificial intelligence isn’t so artificial. With big names like Alia Shawkat, Kristin Wiig, and Ethan Hawke, the show launched to critical acclaim. NOW, Spotify is launching a localized version of the podcast in France, Germany, Brazil, and Mexico. This is not a new idea, though the approach is quite refreshing - the script was adapted with an appreciation for local culture, language, and nuance. Spotify says each adaptation has an A-list cast mixed with traditional TV and film actors as well as digital creators and influencers. [Spotify Newsroom]

💰 SiriusXM buys Stitcher. The broadcasting giant, known for its subscription satellite radio programs like “The Howard Stern Show”, made big waves by buying Stitcher, the podcasting company. Why does it matter? First, it is reportedly the biggest deal in podcasting ever ($300 mil.). Second, as LA Times put it, SiriusXM is looking to bolster its presence as rivals such as Spotify and iHeartRadio have beefed up their investments in the space. Third, we are seeing consolidation in the podcasting market, which is good and bad. Strictly business-wise speaking, this could be another push for podcasting to go mainstream. [NiemanLab]

🎧 Looking for podcast recommendations? Here is a list by Nick Quah titled The Best Podcasts of the Year (So Far). Also, I strongly recommend, again, the new season of the Land of the Giants - The Netflix Effect. Yes, it is about Netflix and it is fascinating and fun.


OTHER NEWS

😂 Apple overlords. In an interview about his upcoming movie, Tom Hanks told the reporter he was sorry it would not get on the big screen. Thought the phrasing is just funny, see below. [The Guardian]

Hanks doesn’t just star in Greyhound, he also produced it and wrote the screenplay, adapting it from C S Forester’s novel The Good Shepherd. “My ego has run rampant, Hadley, and it’s all over the picture!” he hoots. Hanks has written films before – the 1996 paean to 60s bands, That Thing You Do!, and 2011’s Larry Crowne. But Greyhound has been an especial labour of love for him, one he sweated over for almost a decade, and it is one of those sweeping war movies that really should be seen on the big screen. So the change in plans has been, he says, “an absolute heartbreak. I don’t mean to make angry my Apple overlords, but there is a difference in picture and sound quality.”


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