TL;DR: QR codes gained popularity in the early 2010s, driven by the widespread adoption of smartphones with built-in cameras and QR code scanning capabilities, making them a convenient tool for sharing information and connecting the physical and digital worlds.

QR codes have become an increasingly ubiquitous presence in our daily lives, from scanning a code on a product to see more information, to downloading an event ticket, to even paying for groceries. But when exactly did QR codes become so popular? Let’s explore the history and evolution of this fascinating technology.


QR codes were first invented in 1994 by a Japanese corporation called Denso Wave, as a way to quickly track inventory in automotive factories. The code was initially designed to encode a significant amount of information compared to traditional barcodes. With the rise of smartphones in the 2000s, QR codes morphed into a tool for quick communication with consumers.


However, it wasn't until 2011 that QR codes truly began to take off globally, as smartphones became more sophisticated at scanning codes. Around this time retailers, advertisements, and even packaged goods started featuring QR codes to offer consumers more detailed information on a given product. This led to increased knowledge and familiarity among the general public with QR codes as a method of information retrieval.

Asia-Pacific region

By 2013, QR Codes were wildly popular in the Asia-Pacific region, with China, Japan, and South Korea accounting for the majority of the usage. While in other parts of the world, QR codes were starting to appear as a friendly oddity. Nowadays, QR codes continue to be widely used in larger parts of the world, with increasing popularity driven by the convenience and ease of scanning codes with a phone. In fact, a survey conducted by Statista in 2020 found that 17% of respondents had scanned a QR code in the last week alone.

The Future of QR Codes

As technology continues to advance and smartphones remain dominant, QR codes are expected to remain relevant in the world of marketing and communications. In addition to basic usage such as sharing product information, more innovative applications of QR codes are now emerging, such as embedding codes into augmented reality experiences, creating scavenger hunts that use codes as clues and even using a code to pay for public transport.

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Mainstream popularity

In conclusion, QR codes first emerged as an inventory tracking tool in 1994, and gained mainstream popularity in 2011, as smartphones began supporting QR code readers. Since then, QR codes have become an essential tool for marketers, and have gained widespread usage among consumers worldwide. As technology continues to evolve, it will be interesting to see what new uses and applications of the QR code will emerge in the future.