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Microsoft Tag vs. QR Codes: The Debate Continues

A few months ago, a member of the 60 Second Marketer community started a discussion on our LinkedIn group that asked, “I am curious about everyone’s thoughts on Microsoft Tags vs. QR Codes.”

You can join that discussion by clicking the link above. In the meantime, you might also enjoy our analysis of the comments and information we received about the Microsoft Tag vs. QR Code debate. (Some very level-headed information was kindly provided by Nick Martin, the Online Community Manager at Microsoft Tag.)

Here’s our report, written by Nicole Hall at Mobilize Worldwide.

While these two codes both fall into the category of a 2D code, many people have differing opinions on which will win out to become the most widely accepted technology. So what is the fuss really all about?

We took a look at the 5 factors most commonly discussed in the debate to help you decide which code is best for your business.

Open vs. Closed Source: One of the biggest differences between the codes is whether they are open or closed sources.  QR codes are open source, meaning they can be created by many companies, and each company’s code reader should be able to read every other company’s QR codes. Meanwhile, Microsoft Tag’s technology is closed, meaning you can only create and scan Microsoft Tags using Microsoft’s platform. While some believe the open nature of QR codes will help them gain traction and become more widespread in the market place, others argue that by controlling the entire scanning process, Microsoft will be better able to assure quality, and thus rise to the top.

Adoption Rates: Though QR code companies and Microsoft are both extremely tight lipped about their numbers except to say that they are experiencing extreme growth, many 3rd parties have speculated about each code’s share of the market. According to Nellymoser, who is a partner of Microsoft Tag, Tag has an overwhelming presence in the print publications industry, with campaigns in publications such as Allure, Sports Illustrated and USA Today.

However, in most other areas QR codes seem to be dominating the space. In fact, Burson Marsteller recently reported that 22% of the Fortune 50 companies are using QR to promote their business. Companies using QR codes include retailers such as Walmart, manufacturers like Ford Motors and entertainment companies such as HBO, to name a few.  Additionally, ScanLife QR code readers are preloaded on to many Android devices, increasing the adoption rate amongst these owners. Microsoft Tags are not preloaded on any devices, despite the fact that Windows Phones are also a Microsoft product.

Scanability: Scanability is one of the hottest topics in the debate over codes, but unfortunately there is no definitive evidence one way or the other.  While Microsoft has put out research indicating their codes are successfully read up to twice as often as QR codes, 3rd party research is not available to back up these claims. Anecdotal evidence however, indicates that the codes tend to be fairly evenly matched, but that QR codes scanability can be hampered depending on what codes and code readers are being used.

Customizability:  One of Microsoft’s initial selling points was that, unlike QR codes, they could incorporate colors and custom logos into their tags. But now QR codes are catching up on this front. The codes can operate successfully with a 30% margin of error, meaning designers have been able to get creative with graphics and logos. Microsoft Tags can also include your logo, but typically work by layering a field of dots over a picture, as opposed to actually incorporating it into the design. This makes it easy to create a custom code without a graphic designer, but many argue it does not look as sleek. Check out some examples below and decide for yourself. And, for more cool QR codes, check out Mashable’s article.

Cost: It is completely free to create Microsoft Tags and to download their reader. Additionally, their metrics, which include the frequency, time frame, and geography of all scans, come free of charge. Microsoft has guaranteed that all of their services will remain free until at least 2015, and they will give 2 years notice before charging for any service, so a price hike is not a concern for their users. This cost structure differs slightly from most QR code companies which do not charge to create or scan codes, but often do charge a “premium” rate to achieve similar metrics.

While there are some definite differences between the two codes, much of their popularity will come down to individual preference. Regardless of which code wins out, the continuing adoption of one or both of these codes is a definite win for mobile marketers.

Posted by Nicole Hall, Account Manager with Mobilize Worldwide. Mobilize Worldwide develops mobile apps, mobile ad campaigns, mobile websites and just about anything else related to mobile marketing for brands interested in growing their sales and revenue using this new and emerging medium.

  • T. Blaustein

    How about getting to the real issues?

    1..  What percentage of smart phones have one, or both, Readers installed?  Then we’d know the total potential market.  Sure, people can download readers but if they don’t have one by now should marketers care about them?

    2.   How often do consumers with a QR reader scan a QR code?

    3.   How often do consumers with a TAG reader scan a TAG code?

    It’s possible that there are 2x more QR readers installed in the total market, but TAG readers are used 5x more frequently, in which case, we’d have a good indication of consumer preference (that is just a hypothetical and NOT a fact).  With all the money QR companies and TAG have spent, I’ll betcha they know the answers to the above questions.

    It’s about consumer habits and preference, not code format.  Do more women use TAG (because of TAGs heavy use in women’s magazines)?  If you’re marketing to women, that information would matter.

    Perhaps the battle-over-code-formats should just end?  Let both coexist in the market.  Anyone who actively scans one format probably scans the other too.  Do consumers give a hoot about which format you use?  I don’t think so. 

    • None Thanks

      No offense intended, but your questions seem to lack forward thinking. The same questions were asked in the early ’90s when I was pitching internet ideas – “it’s the cb radio of the ’90s” I was often told. Or “Nobody has a computer outside of work – who’s going to use this website thing?” – and this was in San Francisco / Menlo Park.

      The “real issues” are – data mining.

      We’re developing our apps to do just this. Don’t worry – build something good, and you’ll get your users – – and when they come, I’ll own their info. The internet economy was all about getting eyeballs at whatever the cost. Microsoft knows this all too well. I really like their Tag software, and can’t wait til they release more URL parameters.

      The real issues? Man, I’m salivating at the prospects…

  • Great comments and insights, T. You make some very valid points, especially the one about how it doesn’t matter which format because most people use more than one code and/or scanner.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  • We have tried using tags at a major marketing event last year. My blogpost on QR vs Tag back then was http://blog.artoos.be/2010/02/17/clickable-print-revisited/ From our experience with both on our side of the pond we can say QR will ‘resolve’ as easily as TAG if you keep the information limited. Complex QR codes fail more often. I still like the TAG solution because it’s a closed ecosystem, but I must admit we see only see QR here in Europe, not TAG.

  • Thanks for your update, Philippe. It looks as though you’ve done some homework on this subject. Thanks for stopping by.

  • T.Blaustein – We are a communication platform to bridge gap between the products interacting with their consumers. We use QR Code to do that. As far as percentage goes, adoption of QR Codes is crazy.
    You cannot discount the fact that a feasible and effective marketing tool which augments existing strategies will stick and reap benefits and ultimately has to succeed. It’s just matter of time.

    Here is a cool infographic created by us which you may like. Let us know what you think.


  • That’s a great infographic, T. I’d encourage anybody interested in reading data about QR codes to check out the Queaar, Inc. infographic here:


    • Thanks Jamie. Appreciate that comment.

  • Anybody can play with QR code generator here:


    Very simple

  • Sana Bagersh

    Our  marketing has had considerable experience with mobile tag campaigns. What it boils down to is that QR is far more widespread (possibly because the Japanese have given it a terrific headstart) and is already built into many phones.  This means that there is far less need for user education with QR. Microsoft Tag is more robust, in my opinion, because it delivers the single most important thing: it scans faster (and can be smaller in size). It also provides greater back end control, (as it is a closed ‘ecosystem’) and user data for marketers.  The one disadvantage is that it needs to be downloaded and not many people recognise the tag. A shame that Microsoft doesn’t sufficiently fund Tag awareness campaigns.

  • William

    perhaps some smarty-pants programmer will write a “reader” app that reads both and that will be that 🙂

    • Okay, wait. Why hasn’t that been done yet, William? Why hasn’t someone written a reader that does that?

      It’s a terrific idea. Surely, someone is working on it. Right?

      • It won’t happen because Tags are closed source Microsoft proprietary technology- as your article stated. And I disagree with your point on that.  It’s the reason the tech has fallen out of favor because it NOT open source.

        • lnadai

          Why bother? The new “innovation” by M$ already looks dead.


          • Hi Inadai — You’re right. Microsoft killed this product just yesterday. Thanks for stopping by!


  • EricvW

    Reminds me of the Beta vs VHS war.  Seems really difficult at this point to guess who is going to win this race.

    • Agreed — it’s very similar to the Beta vs. VHS war. Whoever becomes the default wins the war. Good point, Eric.

  • It’s all about QR Code at this point.  Nobody is using Microsoft Tag in any significant capacity except for Microsoft itself.

  • Thanks for the vigorous debate going on with this post. It’s great to see so much engagement.

    By the way, to support the launch of my new book “Go Mobile,” we’re running a QR code promotion that provides clues for four iPads hidden across the U.S.

    To get more clues, visit http://www.GoMobileBook.com. But hurry — the promotion ends at the end of the month of January, 2012.

    In the meantime, I’ve attached the first clue below. Scan it and you may be on your way to winning one of four iPads hidden throughout the U.S.

    P.S. The QR code below might be too small for your reader. If so, just visit http://www.GoMobileBook.com

    Jamie Turner
    Founder, the 60 Second Marketer

  • My Windows phone scans both Microsoft tag and QR at the same time wihout needing to download any apps, it’s build into the OS. This is how other readers should work.

    •  I agree, Michael. The Window’s OS is surprisingly good — I’m actually a big fan of it, even though I’ve spent most of my life on Apple products.

      Long story short, when I wrote “Go Mobile” with Jeanne Hopkins we did an investigation into mobile operating systems. I came away very impressed with the Windows OS and remain so even today.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  • Pingback: 7 Microsoft Tags Sites | MK Computing()

  • Here in NZ, QR codes are much more common than MS Tags. My guess is that QR codes will win for now

    •  That makes sense, Barcodes NZ. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Dan I.

    I just did a comparison of the two from a usability standpoint. I found a Microsoft tag and QR code in a magazine that were both about a 1/2 inch in size. My QR code reader has a very difficult time trying to focus on the QR code and sometimes doesn’t capture it at all but the Microsoft tag worked with in 2 seconds on the first try and every try there after.

    There are some important factors when it comes to layout and placement of the QR codes. I noticed in the magazine the QR code had a paragraph of black text surrounding it with a 1/4 inch space. I observed my QR code reader trying to analyze the text that was near the QR code so the placement was not helping the usability of the QR code.

    However to be fair I cut out the Microsoft tag from the other magazine ad and placed it over the QR code that had the paragraph of text surrounding it. The Microsoft tag still worked without any conflict from the paragraph of text surrounding it.

    Based on this test it seems that Microsoft has the better technology.

    Also before you spend $15,000 on a magazine ad it might be worth your time to print your ad to scale and test the placement of your QR code or Microsoft tag and make sure none of the content in the ad is going to conflict.

    •  Hi, Dan —

      Thanks for your comment here. It looks like you’ve done your homework.

      If you’d like to do a guest blog post on your test, feel free to let us know. You can visit our writer’s guidelines page here:

      Thanks again for stopping by!


  • mlee3680

    Perfect post. Learn how to incorporate QR codes in your web apps to deliver quick information directly to your users’ mobile device http://blog.caspio.com/web_apps/4-ways-to-use-qr-codes-in-your-web-apps/

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