Rumours are circulating that the iPhone 5 will not now have NFC (Near Field Communication). It’s a big ‘Stand Down’ message for all those excited by the potential which stood to be unleashed by the new over-the-air medium which revolutionised quick payments on London Underground system. You can almost hear the disappointed groan, like children who’d been promised a rise of pocket money.
It would appear that standardising the medium was more problematic than first imagined. Apple is rumoured to be developing its own NFC standard that will link to iTunes and the 200 million-plus consumers who have registered their credit card information with Apple, but this would still be moot point for regulators.
And it stands to reason.
An O2 press release was issued on 28th November 2007 celebrating the first large scale UK pilot of NFC, in collaboration with Nokia, Transport for London, Visa Europe, Barclaycard, Transys and AEG. That’s a while ago now. And the mobile NFC progress in the UK since that pilot? Um.. after you Apple, whenever you’re ready guys.
To deploy NFC solutions themselves might be a comparative no-brainer and RFID solutions are already enjoying successful use in field enterprise for tasks such as asset management. But to implement secure standards around them in the consumer market appears rather more complex. Not renowned for grasping technically complicated nettles with added regulatory implications (also see age verification), perhaps the networks have stood off and waited for manufacturers to approach them with something that fits better.
With the news that termination rates for voice calls are set to significantly drop, the attention to monetising data and increasing new revenue streams for mobile is increasingly urgent. That’s despite a theory that NFC has stronger value away from payments and transactions, but in virtual currency too. Surely though, revenue share agreements are still there to be had, the NFC wealth would be shared and ripple through the market.
This widely discussed stalling of NFC for the iPhone 5 could be welcomed by Apple’s rivals – particularly the inexorable Android. Indeed, closely followed the iPhone 5 rumour was news of Google picking up the NFC baton. But only in the form of yet another mobile payment pilot test, this one with VeriFone in New York and San Francisco. Who knows how different this is from the O2, Nokia, TfL pilot of 2007/08?
Testing is all well and good, and perhaps this latest Google effort will lead to something, but more high-level tests aren’t what the industry is looking for. It’s looking for wide-spread, secure implementation through an iPhone or an Android: a full rollout which will see NFC floodgates finally start to creak ajar. This is what was hoped for in the iPhone 5, so the failure to deliver presents another disappointment for the wider ecosystem, the agency creatives and those ‘nearly’ men of NFC evangelism (pun intended, sorry).
We were excited in 2007 and we’re still excited now, in 2011. Surely there’s a limit to the false dawns and patience and ifs and buts.
Still, here we are. Sorry son, here’s a fiver and a Bluetooth app. Maybe next year.