Mar 19, 2011

iPhone 5: NFC or Not to NFC?

According to sources, Apple was “concerned by the lack of a clear standard across the industry,” and that the company hoped to include NFC in the iPhone in 2012. Yet a new report contradicts the earlier one, claiming that the iPhone 5 will indeed have NFC after all. But which is accurate?

That first report has the feel of a controlled leak, one that sets expectations for technology partners, and is also in keeping with other recent events regarding Apple and NFC. In January, job listings for employment at Apple focusing on wireless payment communications appeared, building upon related hires made in 2010. It takes time to integrate major new technologies into products. Not surprisingly, the iPad 2 was launched without NFC in March, and the iPhone 5 is expected to share iPad 2 tech. It makes sense then that the iPhone 6 in 2012 would be the first iOS device to have NFC. The only problem is that such a timeline could put Apple a year behind the competition.

Citing “people familiar with the project,” Bloomberg is reporting that Google plans to begin testing mobile payments in New York and San Francisco within four months. Thousands of special cash registers will be installed at stores to be used in conjunction with Android devices, most likely the Nexus S (which already has NFC built-in) and could combine “financial account information, gift-card balances, store loyalty cards and coupon subscriptions on a single NFC chip on a phone.”

Going a step farther than field testing, RIM CEO Jim Balsillie announced at the Mobile World Congress that “many, if not most,” BlackBerry devices launched this year will have NFC. From the NFC Times, RIM executives further expanded on that statement, asserting the company wants “to build an ecosystem to try and exploit the capabilities of this technology so all of us can use and have a much more interactive capability in our lives and on our devices.” RIM’s aggressive move into NFC has apparently gotten the attention of wireless carriers. According to The Wall Street Journal, carriers like Rogers in Canada want the data kept on the SIM cards, rather than devices, and that there is “going to be a little bit of a fight” involved in determining which strategy ultimately wins out.

That kind of tumult over NFC in smartphones does indeed mean the technology is far from a “standard across the industry,” but does Apple really want Google and RIM, let alone wireless carriers, getting the first and possibly deciding say on how mobile payments are ultimately handled? Apple already has more than 200 million iTunes Store accounts with credit cards on file, and NFC would seem like the last step in an Apple-controlled system of payments. All that’s needed from the company to throw its hat in the ring is the device. And NFC isn’t just limited to mobile payments. There are plenty of other uses for the tech, too.

There’s new reason to believe that NFC will indeed make an appearance with iPhone 5, at least according to the latest from Forbes. The source of a source (yes, you read that right), who supposedly works at Apple, “believes” the iPhone 5 will have NFC. Considering the money-making potential of mobile commerce, and the impact on mobile platform viability, that’s not much to go on, but until June that may be all we get. Let’s hope we don’t end up having to wait until June 2012 to find out Apple’s plans for NFC.


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