NFC – The next big thing in mobile that you need to know

Touch Me! - NFC (Near Field Communication)
Image supplied by flickr.com/photos/74845103@N00/

The technology that drives NFC has been around for a while now. You’ll have no doubt been into retail stores that have scanners on the door and all the merchandise has a little electronic device attached – that is essential NFC technology at work. So why is this important to you and what does it have to do with your mobile telephone?

NFC stands for ‘Near Field Communication’ and is simply a standard that allows two electronic devices to communicate with each other when they are in close proximity. If you have travelled around the London Underground, you’ll probably now realise that your Oyster Card makes use of the same technology.

If you had heard of NFC in the context of mobile telephones, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a technology that meant that your credit card was embedded into your mobile. While this is partly true, it only really scrapes the surface of what NFC can do for us. The credit card companies are throwing a lot of money at this, you may have seen the Barclaycard adverts with the man travelling around the city on a water slide, or you may have an NFC mobile and have not realised what it is for. Many Android phones, most new BlackBerry phones, and all new Nokia Windows phones now have NFC on board. Believe me, there is a lot of money riding on this taking off! Companies are betting the farmville on it (see what I did there?)

So where is it working and what else can it do?

  • Google Wallet was recently launched and the intention is for enabled retailers to allow you to pay at the till by touching your phone on the pay point. This does require the retailers to gear up for it and is an obvious example of the ‘credit card on your mobile’ use.
  • Parking Meters are already being used in San Fransisco that allow you to pay by tapping them with your NFC phone (or cell as they would say there).
  • Boarding Passes with American Airlines can be placed onto your mobile via NFC, so again, you merely have to ‘touch’ or ‘tap’ your way in at the boarding gate.
  • Travel Permits can be integrated into NFC. We have already mentioned the non-integrated Oyster Card, other countries such as Germany and Austria have already been running trials of having travel permits on your mobile and validated via NFC.
  • Door Passes are a great use for NFC. Whether this is allowing you access around a restricted area, or for hotels where you are not issued a physical key or key card. Simply carry around your door pass on your mobile.
  • QR Codes are struggling to gain critical mass, but are becoming more widely recognised. With the extremely low cost of NFC incorporation, we will start to see advertising with embedded NFC tags that can be scanned for further information instead of a QR code.
  • Android Beam is a proprietary standard that allows NFC enabled Android phones to share information with each other just by holding the phones together. No doubt other platforms will come up with similar (incompatible) solutions.

This is just a taster of what NFC can do for us, and the technology is here now, and I believe it is here to stay. The big name that is missing is Apple, and as of yet there are no details of an NFC enabled Apple device. In 2010 Apple hired Benjamin Vigier as Product Manager for the company’s Mobile Commerce Unit. Ben is a renowned NFC expert, which implies that Apple’s answer must be just around the corner – we predict in the shape of an iPhone 5.

So how do you feel about NFC? Have you seen it in action? Do you have any ideas about how you think it should be used? We’d love to hear your thoughts so leave a comment below.

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