Just over three weeks ago, when Apple unveiled iOS7 and revealed that the “biggest change” the iPhone had ever gone through would not include the addition of near field communication (NFC), Matt Witheilder of Flybridge Capital Partners wrote a blog on how Apple’s decision may have killed NFC. He wrote “I’m finally calling this one: NFC, at least for payments, is officially dead.” What is NFC going to do without the support of Apple?
NFC has been the up-and-coming, just around the corner technology for nearly a decade, but it’s use has been limited to touchless payment and Apple, the dominant force in the smartphone market, totally refused to support the technology. With a further affirmation that Apple will not utilise NFC in the future, Witheilder thought that it was time to announce the death of NFC.
This week, however, Scott Snyder of Mobiquity Inc. wrote an article deriding critics for burying NFC far too soon. His argument was that the best is yet to come. Yes, it has been the “just around the corner” technology for nearly ten years, but that just means that its growth is being delayed, and surely Apple’s refusal to adopt NFC is part of the problem.
But what is NFC? Why have Apple resisted the concept entirely?
NFC allows users to share data simply by placing their phone in the small field around another phone. Using existing RFID technology, and a simple magnetic loop that triggers interaction, NFC allows communication between devices in a very small area. This allows for maximum control over the data transfer. Where Wi-fi and Bluetooth use a large field of 50-300m potentially covering a large number of devices and opening up the possibility of easy interference, NFC allows the users to control their transfer , the phones must be within 20cm of each other.
Apple has had a few little digs at the technology. Craig Federighi (Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering) made a point of saying there will “be no need to wander around the room bumping your phone with others.” The fact that this system may be useful, for sharing data with the friends you are sat next to or walking with, seems to totally escape the Apple chain of command.
Either that, or the refusal to use NFC is to protect the “walled garden” that Apple have created. NFC would allow competition for Apple products on their own devices. The refusal to use NFC may be brand protection rather than a failure to see the uses of the technology.
In any case, NFC is slow to gain ground without a company like Apple putting time and effort into exploring its uses. Matt Witheilder proclaimed the death of NFC “for payments at least”. NFC has been limited to payments so far because nobody is ready to explore the other possibilities. With a market leader like Apple refusing to get on board, exploring the possibilities doesn’t seem like a particularly fruitful exercise.
So what is NFC good for, other than payments? We don’t really know yet. But as Scott Snyder pointed out, despite the fact that it’s been emerging for nearly a decade, it’s still early days for NFC. It could be the next GPS. It’s been “boxed narrowly” as a payment solution. It’s being used in a variety of cases from ID and authentication to ticketing and vending already. Are there other uses that have yet to be realised? Certainly. But without a big player like Apple on board, it’s only going to take longer to realise them.
NFC is not dead. It’s just being slowed down. It only takes one bright idea to give it a kick start which may end up with Apple scrambling to adopt the technology and perfect it themselves.
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