Blog: NFC: Your Move, Apple (June 2012)(2)
By Joseph DeSetto, Full Sail University
Near field communication, or NFC, is a technology that, on the surface, has tremendous potential. The Japanese vending machine experience of paying for your favorite flavor of sugar water without taking coins from your wallet has been an image of the future for several years now. But for the majority of smartphone users in the United States, the promise of NFC has not materialized. While a few Android models ship with an NFC chip, widespread adoption will require the other leading device maker to get on board.
John Malkovich may be able to get life lessons from his pocket psychiatrist, Siri, in the latest TV ads, but Apple’s iPhone 4S still does not support NFC. Without the iPhone, NFC may never reach the critical mass of users to become a standard form of payment. The case can be made that in sheer volume of phones sold, Android could pull NFC along by itself. But Apple owns a unique place in the market as the tastemaker and mindshare leader. Quite simply, without Apple, NFC may not be cool enough for retailers.
But why is Apple holding out? NFC backers consider the technology’s inclusion in the iPhone 5 a foregone conclusion, and Android fans use the iPhone’s lack of NFC as a reason to consider it behind the tech curve. But Apple has shown some very strong patterns in the past decade, and much of its strategy does not necessarily point to NFC in an iPhone of the near future.
First and foremost, Apple restored itself to a market leader by obsessively focusing on the user experience. MP3s were a nightmare to manage before the iPod and iTunes. Mobile apps before the App Store were a maze of carrier issues. Games were primitive on mobile devices before iPhone enabled Angry Birds to enter the lexicon. Apple finds ways to make difficult user experiences into simple and compelling ones, and charges a premium that users gladly accept for this often groundbreaking work. Unless and until Apple finds a way to make NFC this sort of user experience—one that is a generation ahead of current ways to pay—it may steer clear.
|NFC backers consider the technology’s inclusion in the iPhone 5 a foregone conclusion … But Apple has shown some very strong patterns in the past decade, and much of its strategy does not necessarily point to NFC in an iPhone of the near future.|
Assuming Apple does find a way to make NFC a clear choice among payment options that delights a very demanding user base, simply adding a chip to the phone is one part of the equation. As Apple showed at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference with the introduction of Passbook for iOS 6, the company is focused on ensuring the digital wallet concept is a great user experience before making any attempt to incorporate an NFC layer very few users are demanding.
While its screening process for the App Store has slipped to allow all sorts of poorly thought out nonsense apps into the catalog, to date there have been no attacks on the world’s cellular networks or widespread data breaches because of apps on the iPhone. Security in all things transaction-based is serious business and a major concern, and Apple may not want to stake its nearly flawless reputation on stories of drive-by NFC scanners stealing from you as they walk past your phone. Legitimate concern or not, NFC as implemented by Apple will have to be fairly bulletproof at release.
Lastly, there are simply other options that reduce the demand for NFC in the iPhone. You already can pay at Starbucks with an iPhone app that generates a barcode on screen or check into your flight with a QR Code using the Delta Airlines app. When a user is already taking out his phone and launching an app, how many steps is NFC really saving? On the more technical side, the technology in mobile chips continues to evolve. New options with better battery life, like Bluetooth 4.0, could reduce the interest in NFC and potentially have wider application.
In short, Apple may not rush to incorporate NFC into the iPhone or iPad until this capability provides a clear benefit to users and creates additional leverage for the iTunes/App Store ecosystems.
Joseph DeSetto is the program manager of the Mobile Development Bachelor of Science degree at Full Sail University. DeSetto is the author of The Business of Designand previously served as chief technology officer for two mobile startups. Based in Orlando, Fla., he can be reached via Twitter @desetto or his personal Website, www.desetto.com.
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