NFC May Be Used Across Many Apple Products, Not Just iPhone 5, Says Expert

NFC May Be Used Across Many Apple Products, Not Just iPhone 5, Says Expert

iPhone 5 mockup by HandyFlash.

We’ve already reported how Apple is working on a remote computing system that will be enabled by the iPhone 5.

Equipped with a Near Field Communications (NFC) chip, the iPhone 5 may allow user to load their Home folders on guest Macs when they travel, or log in at school or work. All the user would have to do is tap their iPhone 5 on a NFC-equipped Mac, and the machine would load their Home folder files, settings and preferences.

But if Apple equipped all of its products with NFC chips, which are used for short-range authentication, the technology could be used for super-easy set-up of a new Apple gear, or for easily transferring files and media between different Apple devices.

For example, users could easily connect a new iPad to their home Wi-Fi network, say, just by bringing the tablet within four inches of a NFC-equipped AirPort base station.

“Imagine you touch an AirPort with a new iPad and the Wi-Fi is connected — with full security — in less than a second,” said Gerald Madlmayr, a NFC expert based in Vienna. “No configuration is necessary any more. This makes this technology pretty useful.”

Here are some other pretty useful usages for NFC in a variety of Apple devices:

* Remote log in: According to a source, Apple is working on remote login system that would use the NFC-enabled iPhone as an authentication device. The user would tap a guest machine, which would load the user’s files and settings from the cloud. The system doesn’t use the NFC chip for storage, just authentication.

Automatic Setup: The system might have just as much use closer to home. It would be the easiest way to set up and transfer files to a new machine, for example. Instead of manually typing in usernames, logins and passwords, the user would simply tap a new Mac with their iPhone and everything would be transferred over from the cloud — files, apps, and settings. (As one commenter noted on our earlier story, Apple’s Mac App store would be perfect for this kind of system, automatically downloading and installing apps the user has already paid for).

Media Sharing: NFC-enabled Apple gadgets could also be used to authenticate and pair devices for home media sharing. Take Apple’s new AirPlay, which streams movies and audio from an iPhone or iPad to the new AppleTV. The system could be initiated automatically just by tapping an iPhone 5 against an Apple TV. “You browse a website that contains a YouTube video on the iPhone. Automatically by touching the Apple TV, the video will be displayed on the TV screen,” said Madlmayr. “Apple even could make therefore its own data format in order to make the ecosystem secure — encrypted and signed.”

* Bumping: Madlmayr says NFC will replace current “bumping” apps, which have become popular as ways to share contacts or money in apps like PayPal.
Using NFC, bumping will be more reliable and secure, Madlmayr says. “With NFC, Apple is about to replace actually “bump” from Bump Technologies.”

* Foursquare checking in: Instead of checking in manually with an app to services like Foursquare or Gowalla, iPhone 5 users will just tap their phones against a standard RFID chip at the establishment. Google is about to launch a similar system this week in Portland, Ore., with its NFC-enabled Nexus S and Google Places.

* Keyless entry and ticketing: In Sweden, a hotel is already experimenting with NFC-enabled smartphones as hotel keys. The “key” is sent directly to guests’ mobile phones when they check in. It’s not hard to imagine similar systems for all kinds of keyless entry, as well as ticketed events and travelling.

* Tap and pay eWallet: Madlmayr says Apple will likely introduce an eWallet system with the iPhone 5, but it will be harder than it looks. “Apple will try to cover the whole value chain and therefore the integration of Wallets is more complicated,” he says. “It’s not a normal app. It’s a so-called secure app, running a smartcard chip in the phone which is under control — of course — by Apple and the app-store system. Besides the NFC modem/radio, the secure element will now be a hardware part.” Google’s Nexus S is tipped to give eWallets a kickstart.

Of course, none of this will happen unless retailers, airlines, buses, train operators, hotels and entertainment venues adopt the technology.

But Madlmayr says NFC looks poised to take off. The Nexus S is out this week. Nokia says it will have NFC-ready Symbian phones on the market by next year. And America’s big three mobile carriers are getting on-board with a NFC-enabled mobile commerce network called Isis, which will encourage retailers to support NFC.

“Looks like the technology is getting moving,” says Madlmayr. “Finally.”

About the author

Leander KahneyLeander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney and Facebook.

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