In preparation for our trip we’ve been sampling French fare in the Indianapolis area a bit more than usual. I was amazed when a new place opened near my house called ‘Crepe Guys’. It seems to be a play on the Five Guys burger chain, but clearly for those delicate French pancakes that are notoriously difficult to dislike.
Based on the location, I was expecting a low-budget operation but was literally amazed the moment I opened the door. The entire interior was modern and looked like something out of a movie set at a furniture retailer in 2030. The walls were adorned with the menu and large photos of each offering with a 2-D barcode for each photo. I quickly snapped the barcode and was taken to a larger photo of the menu item.
“Mobile barcodes, often called 2D barcodes or QR codes, allow mobile device users to snap a photo with an application on their device and be instantly brought to specific content for that barcode.”
It was then that I noticed barcodes were everywhere. If I worked in the mobile barcode division of AT&T, I would have hugged the owner. There were barcodes to place an order online, barcodes to sign up for Punchd and get your 10th crepe free, barcodes for their website, and more. It was incredible.
Mobile barcodes, often called 2D barcodes or QR codes, allow mobile device users to snap a photo with an application on their device and be instantly brought to specific content for that barcode. In many cases this is used to get folks to a specific URL that no one is going to want to type in by hand. In this case it was being used as the primary way to interact at the store – if you wanted a better view of a menu item, snap the barcode. If you want to order online or bookmark that page for ordering lunch the next day, snap the barcode.
By using barcodes for literally everything in store, the owner was (possibly without realizing it) overcoming one of the primary obstacles in mobile barcode use, having to whip out our phones and open an app. Since everything used the codes, customers only had to do it once, then they were ready for a barcode scanning frenzy.
We placed our order for dessert crepes while I chatted with the owner and talked about how he decided to use barcodes everywhere. He thinks it will help attract people to the store, and makes it easy for people who don’t speak English to order, as well as making it easier for employees that might not be fully fluent to take orders. Being from another country with a different native language, he was looking at mobile barcodes and the associated mobile technologies in a whole new light. Since mobile barcodes also have the ability to transmit the language the device is using, many possibilities exist for these little squares. Wikipedia uses an open-source project called QRPedia that uses that ability to serve up Wikipedia articles in the native language of the device doing the scanning.
When it was time to pay, I whipped out my AMEX and swiped it in his iPad, with an option to have a receipt emailed to me. Upon returning home I poked around his website and found a modern looking ecommerce site allowing people to place orders for crepes online, even have them delivered to offices for lunch.
“Since mobile barcodes also have the ability to transmit the language the device is using, many possibilities exist for these little squares.”
This restaurant owner made me look at some of this technology in a new way. As the world globalizes, instant access to hypertext that can be presented easily in multiple languages, or the universal language of images can be a boon to our overall ability to communicate. This improved communication ability opens new markets to many businesses small and large by decreasing the language barrier through technology I’d love to see this merchant’s QR codes point to detailed descriptions of each item in multiple languages, possibly feeding into a mobile ordering platform that would let me customize and place my order from my phone while standing in line, but clearly that requires more IT assets than a brand new startup has … for now.