Microsoft’s Tag Isn’t It: Company Ditching QR Code Competitor

The smartphone-scannable Microsoft Tag technology may be more technically advanced than its more popular cousin, but the company is pulling the plug. Don't assume that means a bright future for the QR code.

It may have been proprietary, but it had a big backer. Now it’s fading away.

With Microsoft’s Tag switching ownership and the tech giant getting out of the bar code business, there’s reason for marketers—including those in the events sphere—to worry for the QR marketing technology’s long-term prospects, too.

Decoding a Decision

Microsoft’s High Capacity Color Barcode technology, which competed with the more popular QR code as Microsoft Tag, had many advantages for marketers. For one thing, the colors could hold more information than a traditional low-resolution black-and-white QR code. For another, the technology allowed full-color photographs, illustrations, and other images to be used. And finally, the technology had built-in analytics advantages.

The platform certainly had its users—from magazines to hardware stores—but its popularity didn’t reached the critical mass of its QR cousin. And competition from more-advanced technologies such as radio-frequency identification (RFID), near field communication (NFC), and Bluetooth likely made Microsoft’s decision easier.

Those currently using the platform have some time: Microsoft has licensed the technology to Scanbuy, which will shepherd it for the next two years, at which point the platform will be shut down entirely.

Trend Prognosis

But what about the QR code itself? It’s still common, right?

Well … don’t bet the farm on it, analysts say. The tech site ReadWrite, which has in the past run a “deathwatch” for QR codes, suggests that this moment may signify the turning point where the trend starts to fade. The site’s Brian Proffitt blames poor implementation that failed to live up to the technology’s promise—leading consumers to tune it out entirely. “After the initial promise of cool and interesting content to supplement the consumer or community experience, what users actually got was slap-dash marketing and a sense of being let down,” Proffitt writes, offering this ray of hope: “Maybe the tech will be more effective some day, if advertisers learn to use it better.”

On the other hand, an eMarketer study from January found that roughly two in five young adults in the U.S. have scanned the codes at some point, with the most popular targets being magazines, mail, and packaging. Still, Marketing Land’s Aaron Strout and some other marketing experts say the repeat users are rare.

But that hasn’t stopped the codes from showing up everywhere, from pharmacies to customized iPhone cases, as businesses tried to take advantage of the concept.

Think the QR code still has some life in it? Let us know your take.

An example of the Microsoft Tag technology in action. (YouTube screenshot)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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