It's because of the apps
The blame lies with Apple and Google for not making QR reader apps standard utilities for their OS. If you want to read a QR code with a new phone, you can't. I don't see why this would have been too much to ask but apparently it was.
Oh, and no, we don't *exclusively* use smartphones as tiny PCs in the West. I'm pretty damn certain the Pokemon Go phenomenon has proven that exact point. Aren't these articles fact-checked at all before publication?