Near-field Communication made its first appearance the Android ecosystem, but its obvious usefulness for smartphone payments has made it a powerful technology for the personal transaction industry. The technology only exists in a few handsets currently and it’s obvious to the industry that Apple would be the next best platform to develop it on.
Bloomberg has an angle on this development that I hadn’t originally considered,
Under Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook, who’s handling day-to-day operations as Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs takes medical leave, the iPhone is adding features that will help it compete with phones that use Google Inc.’s Android software. Samsung Electronics Co.’s Nexus S phone, which runs Android, can read information from NFC tags. Nokia Oyj, the world’s largest maker of mobile phones, has pushed NFC adoption for years, though the technology has been slow to take off.
“Apple could be the game-changer,” Doherty said.
Apple, based in Cupertino, California, is considering starting a mobile payment service as early as mid-2011, Doherty said. It would revamp iTunes, a service that lets consumers buy digital movies and music, so it would hold not only users’ credit-card account information but also loyalty credits and points, Doherty said.
At first Apple’s adoption of NFC looks a lot like an attempt to play catch up with Google Android, but it could also be seen as a trend-setter for the technology itself. NFC has been extremely slow to deploy, only barely scratching the surface amid a ecology of technologies begging to do the same thing—we’ve already seen RFID tried in credit-cards. Apple joining the game now means that a lot more companies will be forced to pay attention to the concept and start to produce compatible devices.
Smartphones already do a great deal of things for their users including mobile banking and being able to use them to do hand-to-hand transactions makes sense as the next step. We’ve just been waiting for the technology to push the handset into the territory of the virtual wallet. Too many factors make technologies such as NFC problematic for adoption, in that even as Google starts to produce one standard, there’s the chance that every handset manufacturer could decide to go with a different implementation. This sort of fragmentation could kill the idea before it ever gets out of the gate.
If we’re really lucky, Apple will go with the same implementation for the communication side and license the same technology as Google, thus maintaining a sort of compatibility with what’s already in development. Currently, most NFC only involves phone-to-phone communication, but we’ve already got things like Bluetooth for that.
Adoption of new technologies themselves must be driven by having a consumer base to use them, but it also means that the people who reach those consumers must start to offer them. If the only phone to use NFC happens to be the Nexus S we wouldn’t see much penetration, nor much care for point-of-sale systems to start using it; but if the iPhone starts to embrace this technology we will see a great deal more reasons for it to enter the market.
Google Android seemed the best place for NFC to start because it has such a diverse set of handsets it crosses; but the addition of iPhone to the field means a strong customer base of extremely loyal, very active users.