Right now, if you look at most new devices being sold to consumers you can generally find a few features in common. Those features are generally high-resolution touch displays, and high-speed data connections driven by a power efficient SoC (System on a Chip). All of these devices generally tend to have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity as well, but increasingly more and more are beginning to come with NFC.
The problem is that most people either don?t know that it?s there or even what NFC even means. NFC is simply shorthand for Near Field Communication, which in itself is a very general explanation for the technology. However, it does somewhat accurately depict the most important part of this technology, the need to be within a very close proximity in order to complete a connection. The NFC Forum is responsible for NFC technology development and advancement. It was originally established by Nokia, Sony and Phillips and has grown to include many of the largest companies in the mobile industry.
A list of NFC Forum members, Apple and Nvidia are notably missing
The original use case for NFC was to be bundled into your phone and to allow for you to pay for things with your phone using a digital wallet, like Google?s Wallet. The problem, however, is that the carriers have taken NFC payment systems hostage and don?t want Google to control the transactions. This has prevented a lot of movement with NFC payments on Android devices and by extension the majority of the industry.
Now, lots of people talk about how NFC is just another gimmicky technology that simply does not have enough use cases to be taken seriously. While this may have been true a year or so ago, now there are becoming more and more NFC use cases that are simply too compelling to pass up. The biggest problem is that most of these use cases require the user to actually put in the work to get out the result, and in our current mobile society, consumers expect everything to come easy.
Samsung has admittedly done a good job marketing their own NFC solution with all of the commercials showing people tapping and touching their phones to share files. In fact, they may have done the most for NFC in terms of marketing than anyone could have ever expected. Even most of their street advertisements incorporate NFC technology for users to interact with. Nevertheless, Samsung?s solution only works well with other Samsung devices and that is simply not a model that will help NFC become a more prevalent technology.
We?ve recently been reviewing different phones and tablets and found ourselves amazed by the sheer plethora of NFC enabled devices. The Nexus 7 has NFC, as does the ASUS VivoTab RT, the Acer Iconia W510, as well as the Nokia Lumia 810, LG Optimus G and HTC One X. Between all of these devices, we?ve got three different operating systems and all of them already have devices utilizing NFC. However, many of the potential features of NFC are lost when going cross-platform with many of these devices, such as picture sharing. Sharing links is incredibly easy and generally flawless, but that?s about it for now. In our testing and analysis we came to the conclusion that essentially everyone has jumped aboard the NFC train with one very large exception, Apple.
Seamless NFC communication between two tablets running different system architectures (ARM, x86) and operating systems (Microsoft Windows RT, Windows 8)
Many thought that there was a chance that Apple would include NFC functionality with the iPhone 5, but they did not. And we think that they did this for good reason, for now. What is really missing for the iPhone to adopt NFC is for a proper cross-platform standard to exist. In all truth, Apple does not need or care about cross-platform standards, but there is a good chance that if the Android, Windows Phone and Windows device manufacturer don?t get together, Apple will do it.
Another reason why Apple will have to adopt NFC in their next iPhone is because by the time it comes out; we believe that NFC will have reached a similar critical mass that 4G technologies had. We believe that one of the biggest reasons why Android has seen such success is because Android has had 4G data connectivity for so much longer and in much higher concentrations and iPhones did not. When people see how effective they can be with NFC as they did with 4G technologies, we believe that the entire market will begin to demand NFC and Apple will have to include it. Part of it will also rest on the shoulders of the carriers and manufacturers to market these features heavily as well.
We believe that Apple is trying to create the ecosystem for NFC through things in iOS6 like Passbook, among many other applications. They want to create the ecosystem for NFC before they actually start giving people access to NFC. This seems like a rational approach and is likely one of the reasons why the iPhone 5 did not have NFC. They really should be considering the use cases for NFC like we have. Some NFC applications enable absolutely impressive levels of customization.
We recently started to play with some Samsung TecTile NFC tags and started to program them with the NFC on our HTC One X. Using the NFC Task Launcher application, we were able to create a set of commands for the phone to then program into the NFC tag for future use. We decided to go with a relatively simple one, so we created a car profile for our NFC tag. This profile saves the commands that you store inside of the NFC tag into a neat organized profile name. For this profile we had the NFC tag make the phone turn off Wi-Fi, turn on Bluetooth and open Pandora all at the same time. All we had to do was tap the NFC tag upon entering the car and the tag would do the rest for us. Heck, there?s even a default profile inside of the NFC Task Launcher application that helps you create a Foursquare check-in NFC tag profile so people can tap to check-in.
"Touch me" – No, not the doll – look for the NFC touch point between the vents.
One of the most compelling future uses is actually in automobiles. Right now, the majority of car sync technologies are done through Bluetooth, but with NFC you could place your phone down and it could theoretically put the phone into a car mode and automatically connect the two as well as enable/disable features like we have set up for our NFC tags. Additionally, NFC can be used for keyless entry into cars and Hyundai has indicated their intentions to use NFC in their future cars (2015). Also, with the advent of things like wireless charging, there?s a good chance that you could wirelessly connect your car to your phone while charging it without using a single cable. That just sounds like the future to us.
Once you have experienced the simplicity and smoothness of NFC, you really find a hard time going back. That?s why we hope to see more manufacturers employing more NFC applications and marketing to bring awareness to consumers to this potentially powerful technology. Not to mention you can still do things like share pictures, maps, and links.