Back in November Google's former CEO Eric Schmidt demonstrated Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" running on an unidentified handset that supported the up-and-coming technology of near field communications. NFC, as it's better known, allows for the transfer of data between two NFC chips within a close (10 centimeter, 3.9 inches) proximity. It's nothing new, but it finally looks like it will be coming to the mainstream.
Because mobile handsets pose the most promising uses of NFC, Google felt it important to support it in its next software release while also encouraging hardware makers to get on board. "We see ourselves as a technology provider in this space," said Schmidt in November presentation. But it's not just Google who is interested in NFC, of course. Apple too will likely include NFC chips in the next iterations of its mobile hardware. Other mobile companies will likely follow suit.
Chase's Blink credit cards that transmit payments wirelessly to a receiving terminal. The second is a reader mode which accepts a broadcasting source—similar to an RFID tag embedded mall directory that brings up a map on your mobile device. The third is a peer-to-peer mode that exchanges data between two devices embedded with chips.
Payment systems are the obvious candidate for the first mode. Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal have all commented on NFCs as a natural extension of their businesses. Users could also tap their bank account directly like they do with PayPal. Other ticketing systems could employ NFC to automatically debit ticket use without users having to fumble for a card in their wallet or purse.
The reader mode functions like a QR Code scanner or an RFID reader. Applications using this feature receive the embedded data on their mobile device. MIT Technology Review reported on EnableTable, a company who embeds NFC chips in restaurant menus and check folders that are used to provide virtual coupons and offers to diners. The reader mode is the realm of "Would You Like to Know More?" Visiting a historic city and want to take a self-guided tour? Hold your phone up to transmitter points around town to get audio, videos, and photos detailing the area. Advertisers are likely to jump on the bandwagon too. See a movie poster and want to quickly retrieve show times in your area? NFC can deliver that.
Bloomberg notes that Apple has even applied for a patent on a NFC system that can share information between applications running on Apple devices.
There is no guarantee, however, that near-field communication will be successful. A number of things need to happen for it to establish itself as a primary mode of transmitting data.
It will take a long while before the technology embedded in mobile devices gets distributed to consumers. Because people are locked into phone contracts, it's difficult for new hardware to get quickly adopted. And, even if the phones saturate the market, there needs to be hardware installed that users can interact with. Will payment terminals be the killer app that encourages others to develop for the less obvious uses?