One of the big trends at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona has been announcements regarding NFC. While NFC has been supported in a handful of Android phones and BlackBerry models, till now there haven’t been many real-world applications for it. With several announcements around NFC, the technology’s time may be finally be coming.
Despite rumors, Apple has never shown an interest in adopting NFC in the iPhone or iPad. Could Apple’s lack of NFC support could stick out like a sore thumb despite the fact that it managed to upstage every company at MWC with yesterday’s iPad 3 event announcement.
The idea of NFC as the basis for a smartphone-based digital wallet has been floating around the tech world for a while now but has never materialized as a mainstream product. One reason for that is that NFC as a piece of hardware and short range communications protocol is only part of the e-wallet equation.
Creating an e-wallet and mobile payment solution requires a lot more than NFC chips being included in mobile devices along with NFC support in mobile OSes. It also requires buy-in from and integration with banking and credit card companies, reader devices from merchant processing firms, and it requires that retailers upgrade their various electronic payment readers to support NFC.
That’s a lot of stars that need to align for NFC to have a chance of widespread implementation. Till now there have been a number of small, typically local, test initiatives by finance companies, but no wide scale or global initiatives. That may be one reason Apple has been pretty quiet on the NFC front. The company might be waiting for there to be signs that the technology had matured into a viable product.
With several NFC announcements at MWC, that time may be coming with more trials in the U.S. and some global partnerships forming to support and promote the technology around the world. Here’s a sample of the announcements that came flooding out of Barcelona earlier this week:
- Three Big Plastic Issuers Take Step Toward Mobile Wallets
- VeriFone announces NFC POS solution for mobile network operators
- Visa Announces Mobile Payments Provisioning Service
- Santander unveils first NFC wallet to offer both Visa and MasterCard payments
- Intel and Visa Join Forces to Boost Mobile Payments
- LG unveils two more NFC phones
It’s also worth noting that NFC isn’t limited to mobile payments. The short range technology has other applications including digital flyers, the ability to exchange information between devices, and even the ability to serve as a digital key to a device (something Apple was once rumored to be exploring for future Macs and iOS devices).
Some of these features extend the functionality of NFC beyond smartphones to other devices like tablets, computers, and home and office electronics. While the e-wallet scenario might not seem like a huge miss on Apple’s part given the timing of the iPhone 4S launch, but not including some NFC support in the iPad 3 or in iOS 5 (or 5.1) might be a different story. On the other hand, this does offer third-party vendors a chance to innovate around both the iPhone like DeviceFidelity is doing with its In2Pay iCaisse4, which has been certified for mobile payments by MasterCard.