Monday, December 20, 2010

Has NFC Got A Little Closer This X-mas?

It hardly seems possible but the end of the year is upon us once again. Those of you in the UK will know what I mean when I say we are all looking forward to a White Xmas….

This month NFC is hot on the table again with the latest news of the Samsung Android phone with NFC built in. I’ve looked back through my notes and discovered we’ve been saying this for the last 8 or 9 years, the NFC bit, not the Android which has appeared very suddenly and is already zooming up the charts in the smart phone world. Who would want to be in the shoes of Nokia with both NFC and Android to worry about? If one were to have a Xmas punt it would probably be the thought of Nokia giving up on Symbian now exclusively theirs with all the other smart phone manufacturers (except Apple and Blackberry of course) moving over to Google’s Android smart phone offering.

So has NFC got a little closer, will it go zooming up the charts like Android? Well there can be no doubt that there has been a lot going on in the background and all the major players including Apple and RIM (Blackberry) making sweet noises about their support for NFC. However I am reminded of those heady days in the late 80’s when we were all convinced that the world was going to be flooded with smart cards. Our own publication started in 1992 because we knew that smart cards were going to be the new technology revolution for every application you could possibly imagine and of course all financial payment cards were going to have a chip in them.
I would be the first to admit that I didn't see it coming, those early mobile phones, did somebody say they were portable? How big a battery pack can you carry on your back? In fact originally they were promoted for in car use where you have a mighty big battery to call on. How wrong can you get, who would have imagined in 1990 that by the end of the decade children would be taking a mobile phone with them to school.

Suddenly smart cards took off largely in the form of mobile phone SIM cards and about a decade later the banks followed along with the now well known chip and PIN, the rest of course is history.

So here’s the thing what’s going to make NFC take off? For those enthusiasts who would want to assure me that very soon every phone will have NFC I would remind them that every phone had Bluetooth long before anybody really started using it and even now it’s very much a minimal application probably because of the drain on the battery. Just for the record I actually don’t think we are going to see NFC in every phone for some time to come but let’s go the other way and try to see where the tipping point might be.

For years everybody said it was payments, NFC was going to be the way to do contactless payments on your mobile phone but if you think about it in most retail environments it doesn’t really make a difference. If the value of the payment is high enough to need a PIN, £10 or £20 wherever the risk limits are set then you are most likely to use the contact interface anyway. For low value payments without a PIN such as mass transit well then yes, contactless is the way to go but will you use your phone? We’ve talked about it before but there is also the issue of user convenience. Is it easier to get out your phone, select the payment application (I need convincing on the viability of defaults) and wave your phone or is it easier to just get the contactless card out of your pocket? Do we really want to have everything on our phone or might we just like a little bit of variety, a sort of back up you might imagine. I admit this quietly but I also have a few problems with the phone being charged, just at the wrong moment the battery seems to go flat. Am I unique in this?

Well for me the case for NFC in unproven, not the technology you understand, I wouldn’t dare argue about that but what is the killer application? Many argue that it won’t just be one application but instead the richness of a number of applications. You can call me old fashioned if you like although I Twitter with the best of them, but for me there has to be ‘The Application’ and as of Xmas 2010 I can’t see what it is.

Happy Xmas to all our readers and best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year.


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