Last week Google announced their mobile payment system that utilizes Near Field Communication (NFC). This is just one more functionality that Google is adding to the list of uses for NFC. To be honest this was the main driving force behind the development of NFC to begin with. NFC is a type of RFID that operates at a specified frequency (13.56Mhz) and offers two way communications. It has a very limited range which is why it is ideal for payment processing.
Since I’m a fan of RFID and have been for over 10 years I couldn’t wait for the Google Nexus S phone to become available since this was the first phone to include NFC capabilities. For several months before the phones release Google announced support for this functionality in the Android Operating system allowing developers to start learning the ins and outs. Since I’m not an Android developer I had to turn to someone who could research this and give me an update. My son has been developing Android Apps for almost a year now and has deployed two apps to the Android Market, one for the phones and one for the tablets.
What we found was that with each software update Google is slowly working the bugs out of the NFC development. The developer documentation started off very weak and was a trial and error. At the most recent SXSW festival in Austin Google started the major push of NFC marketing. We now have several locations around town that provide the familiar Google Map icon which we can wave our NFC enabled phone on to get that businesses website information and other marketing information. Currently the latest version of Android OS only supports reading/writing tags and doesn’t allow you to set your device NFC information for others to read, which is required for the announced service.
With all this the question I have is “Is it too late for Apple to take advantage of NFC?”. I don’t believe so and only time will tell. Most smartphone users love to show off new features and this will undoubtedly be a game changer if it takes off. Apple has already backed off twice, once with the iPhone 4 and now the iPhone 5, to include NFC in the iPhone for no official reason other then the next iPhone 5 will not support NFC at this time. It could be that the iPhone will include the hardware but that it will not be enabled until a future software upgrade. It doesn’t make sense that Apple will sit on the sidelines for this new phone interface. I’m sure when Apple does step up to the NFC table they will have a custom payment system that utilizes the iTunes infrastructure. This could be a problem if they join the game too late as this will increase the cost to implement payment processing for the software developer and vendor. If Apple takes any percentage from the already tight payment processing space they could price themselves out of the market. Which could be the reason they are waiting on the sidelines.
If this technology takes off the consumer will be the winner here and business will be changed forever. We are at a point in technology time where the change on the horizon, if done right, will be incredibly useful in our day to day activities. No longer will you have a stack of credit cards in your wallet or a stack of business cards to hand out. When you check into a hotel room they will load your phone with a unique key that will open your room door for the duration of your stay, no more magnetic strip cards that are ruined if put into the wrong pocket. So many other uses for this technology outside of the payment space. It truly will be one of those technologies that will look back and say what took so long.