With iOS 7, Apple Shows It Will Tolerate QR Codes – But Not Further Their Cause

Apple had a great big belly laugh at the expense of near field communications (NFC) at its WWDC keynote this year, but it also quietly adopted a tech that has received an equal amount of general scorn (if not more): the QR code. Apple actually built a QR code reader into iOS 7 – yes, right into the OS – but in a way that makes clear its presence is more of a mildly unpleasant but useful tool in promoting its own tech, rather than anything to be truly upheld and encouraged.

The QR code reader in iOS 7 is built into Passbook: there’s now a new Scan Code feature built into the Passbook card that’s used to explain the overall service. Accessible with a single tap from the launch screen of Passbook, it loads right into a QR code scanner that takes advantage of the iPhone’s rear camera to spot the cubic barcodes in print, on the web or wherever they may be, and recognizes them immediately. But it’s what happens next that tells you Apple isn’t a thorough QR code convert.

Building a reader that treats all QR codes equally and executes whatever information they’re meant to convey would have been simple enough, but Apple didn’t want a general-purpose tool. That’s why the QR code reader in the Passbook app provides a very clear message about its purpose when you try to scan a code that doesn’t link to a Passbook pass, as you can see in the screenshot below sent along by a helpful tipster.

The purpose of the integration is obvious – Apple thinks this is a way to make it possible for users to quickly and easily add Passbook content to their library, and clearly wants to put as few barriers as possible in the way of getting users to do so. But the QR codes themselves are just a means to an end; the ultimate goal is to make sure that users start adopting and using Passbook more, and QR codes are just a conduit. In fact, if anything, locking down the QR codes to apply strictly to Passbook passes does more to harm the case of using them as a generally applicable tech than anything, since a huge number of iOS users are likely going to associate QR strictly with Passbook and possibly even get frustrated at ones that don’t provide access to that specific kind of content.

Some might take this as a sign that Apple could build QR code support into the main iOS camera app, or let it stand alone, but don’t count on that. Apple is cherry-picking a tech that suits its purposes, and when there’s a better way or it’s no longer needed to help Passbook build momentum, expect it to be discarded. At best, this won’t make QR codes happen – it’ll render them permanently subservient to Passbook, as a kind of sub-brand tech.