QR Codes Hope to Be This Summer’s Breakaway Hit

Summer is on its way in North America. The days are getting longer, the weather’s warming up, and people are spending time outside. And nowadays, most of those people have a cellphone handy.

Startups in the long-simmering QR code market are hoping that the change in season, along with what they say is a “critical mass” of smart phones, will finally bring QR codes, barcodes that lead to URLs or information when scanned, into the mainstream. The idea is that when more people are out and about, the more likely it is that they’ll interact with QR codes on things like movie and concert promotion posters. And at least two QR code startups are in the process of closing on fresh rounds of funding to make sure they can seize what they think is a major opportunity to bring QR awareness to the masses. But are QR codes really a seasonal thing?

Los Angeles-based startup ShareSquare makes QR codes that lead to customized HTML5-based web applications. The majority of the company’s clients are in the entertainment industry, from independent musicians to large movie studios, and use ShareSquare’s QR codes on promotional materials. ShareSquare launched to the public in March after proving popular at the South by Southwest conference, CEO Matthias Galica said in an interview this week.

Galica says his company is quickly closing on about $1.5 million in funding to ensure that it can capitalize on what he says is a crucial time for the QR space. “Most of these QR placements are out of home, and [in the summer] people have the opportunity to interact with them,” Galica said, noting that the funds will be used to double the size of ShareSquare’s developer team. “We’re seeing the market really accelerate.” Summer is a huge time for concerts and big movies, so maybe he has a point.

Also currently in funding talks is Paperlinks, a Los Angeles-based startup. Paperlinks sells stationery products, like wedding invitations and business cards, which include QR codes linking back to a customized site. Paperlinks CEO Hamilton Chan told me in an interview this week he’s in the process of securing an undisclosed amount of venture capital to help fuel his company’s projected growth. “We want to grow very aggressively,” Chan said. “The time is right for QR codes.”

It bears mentioning, however, that not everyone is so bullish about QR technology’s current potential. In late March, Google (s GOOG) quietly shut down the QR code initiative it debuted for its Places product in 2009 . The word is, Google ditched QR to focus on developing near field communications (NFC) technology, which goes beyond offering more information about products. With NFC, people could use their mobile phones to buy things.

It could well be that both QR and NFC have widespread adoption, but in a world of ever-increasing mobile technology, there may not be enough room on the average consumer’s radar for two features that are so similar. That may be the real reason why QR companies see this summer as a now-or-never moment: They’re hoping QR will be the first to grab a place in the sun, and in consumer’s minds, ahead of NFC.