You probably haven't heard of us, and it may seem that we are bringing to market a radically new user experience for QR codes, but we’re not new, and our approach to QR codes is not completely new either. It repurposes a lot of cutting-edge technology from the world of beacons.
Before we changed our name to Phy and embraced QR, we were “BKON Connect.” When we started in 2014 our focus was Bluetooth beacon technology. In addition to designing and manufacturing our own hardware, we developed a powerful platform to manage the associated content and interactions. Our cloud-based platform has carried live traffic continuously since 2014, serving over 40 countries, so it’s pretty solid these days.
Recruited by Google.
In late 2014, Google approached us and asked us to support their beacon initiative called the “Physical Web.” We bought into the vision and committed ourselves to pushing it forward.
With its catchphrase “Walk up and use anything,” the Physical Web envisions a world where useful interactions are conveniently located at the point of need and are accessible without a custom app. Check out Google’s website on the Physical Web where they promote “Walk up and interact with any object -- a parking meter, a toy, a poster -- without installing an app first.” In 2015, Google even used our BKON beacons in an example video that shows the Physical Web to inform movie-goers.
Through our experience, we learned that mobile users do want the Physical Web. They value having easily accessible, contextually relevant information as they move through their day. They also prefer being able to choose what information they want, rather than having it chosen for them through push messages.
The concept of the Physical Web makes sense as a utility to serve people’s needs with as little friction as possible. The problem is that the Physical Web does not work well with beacons (which was hard to admit for a company named BKON). With a range of 100+ meters, beacon content is often seen too far from its subject to be relevant. Even worse, when too many are in range at one time, the channel is noisy. It becomes difficult for people to find the content they want and this increases friction.
In response to the information clutter issue, Google began to filter results, which made things worse by often filtering out the exact information people wanted. In the movie poster example, if the user acts to see showtimes, but instead only finds content about the ice cream shop next door, or a special on popcorn, then the Physical Web failed their need. Rather than a user-directed technology, Google’s version of the Physical Web became something else altogether, and as a result is not a popular service.
We continued to work to overcome the hurdles with solutions of our own. We designed, developed, invented, tested, tweaked, supported, innovated, and tested some more. We deployed thousands of Physical Web beacons, developed our own contextual apps, and in the process, we learned a lot about how people want to interact with the things around them.
Although Google continues to support the Physical Web with Android’s Nearby application, and we continue to support compatible services, we finally had to admit to ourselves that beacons do not fulfill what users want from the Physical Web. Happily, along the way, we figured out that QR codes do.
QR codes enter the picture.
QR codes hold the most potential as a universal proximity technology for the Physical Web. They allow people to choose exactly what they have interest in; they have no collateral noise, and they do not require a special app. With the Apple camera and most social apps now supporting QR codes, access is now frictionless.
But QR codes had their own issues. They were blind links directly to single solutions. The problem with this becomes apparent with the movie poster example. If there are four viewers of the poster, one might want showtimes, but others might want to see a movie trailer, see reviews, or buy a ticket.
The challenge is that people scan QR codes to fill a need, but they don’t all have the same need, so it’s not fulfilling often enough to reinforce the experience. If I scan a QR on a movie poster because I want to buy a ticket, and instead am taken directly to a movie trailer, then the service failed me.
Because the Physical Web deals with several beacons and content options at a time, it works with previews pulled from website metadata. This is the same popular user experience we all use daily in search. We look at previews of relevant options and then choose the one we want.
It seems obvious now that QR should work the same way to solve the issues of eliminating blind links and being useful more often than not.
Using our movie poster example again, whereas only one of the four viewers were satisfied with a direct link to the trailer, if a scan of a QR code instead showed four informative link previews, including one each to a trailer, to buy a ticket, to a schedule, and to reviews, then most viewers will likely find what they want. And they will begin scanning QR codes more often because they are consistently meaningful.
This is when it all came together for us. We already had a patented metadata server in place, managing previews and all of the associated content. We had accumulated lots of experience managing multiple content elements from a single scan. We were already managing location context, had in place advanced tools such as APIs to dynamically update experiences, and we had developed the capability to capture data from all of these interactions.
Thus we merged QR with our Physical Web platform and the result is a magical experience where people can scan a QR code and choose from multiple previews to access the specific action that fits their need in a particular place and moment. A single QR code can now simultaneously serve customers in different stages of the customer cycle. And for the first time, QR codes have a feedback loop that let you know what people actually want from product or service interactions.
We built a better NFC tag at the same time. It's possible that some of our advancements will make beacons a better tool for the Physical Web too.
So that about sums up who we are and how we got here. In short, we set out to replace QR codes, but ended up building a better QR code.