Recent developments around near field communication (NFC) have the blogoshpere buzzing. The top three mobile platforms, Android, iOS, and Windows Phone 7 are rumored to be preparing to support NFC.

According to a recent study, one third of iPhone users indicated that they were "likely" or "very likely" to use mobile payments. Analysis from Juniper Research states that NFC mobile payments market will exceed $75 billion globally by 2013, when 20% of all phones shipped will possess NFC capability. No surprise then that the industry is working towards integrating NFC chips in the phone.

Once NFC chips are integrated into phones, a host of new applications can be built that:

  • help people access such things as public transport, office buildings, or their cars
  • download music, videos, and discount coupons from smart posters
  • act as an identity card to make purchases or exchange business cards
  • help facilitate the pairing of Bluetooth devices

A Usage Scenario

Here’s a scenario of how NFC coupled with location-based services (LBS) could simplify people’s daily lives.

Location: Bangalore
Scenario: Meeting a friend at an unknown location
Phones: NFC and LBS enabled phone

  • The user keys in address in mapping app in phone, selecting the local train as the transportation method.
  • The mapping app identifies nearest train station from the user’s current location and shows directions for how to reach the station on foot.
  • Following the instructions, the user reaches the train station.
  • At the station, the user makes a quick purchase of a magazine from vending box by tapping his phone with NFC reader to provide payment.
  • The user taps his phone on the station turnstile reader, which finds that the user has a valid pass to the train system and so lets the user enter the station.
  • The user reaches the destination station and taps the exit gate with his phone.
  • The user passes a “smart poster” advertising a movie that interests him, so he taps his phone to the poster to download the movie’s trailer, show times, and promotional discounts.
  • The user checks his location again to find the fastest route to his friend’s location, and selects a cab as the transportation method.
  • The phone identifies cabs in the vicinity and signals the nearest one to pick up.
  • When the cab arrives, the user taps the cab’s customer terminal to transmit the destination information and confirm that he was the one who called the cab.
  • When the cab reaches the destination, the user pays the fare by tapping the phone to the customer terminal.
  • The user meets his friend, and they tap their phones to friend each other on Facebook.
  • The pair walk into the theatre, and the user taps the theatre’s NFC reader to buy tickets using the discount received from the smart poster.

This is my prediction of the near future. With a simple tap, NFC enables effortless access to the everyday tools and services we use, and simplifies our daily activities.


Your post was very helpful to me regarding nfc keychains and nfc business cards

Everyone talks about the mobile payment feature of NFC which takes more time to be adopted by. But I think other uses like integration of Social Media related activity includes Facebook Like, Places, Foursquare CheckIn, Twitter Follow etc.. Recently I have been to this website from Nokia - where you could buy NFC tags to create smart posters for various campaigns.

@Joe: PayPass is NFC!
@Tim: believe a tap/touch isn't a req, just a near wave as u noted. (just like PayPass)

NFC has been tested before in the US with it integrated into a nokia phone, it specifically worked with the PayPass system which has been widely dusted a McDonalds and 7-Eleven's for quite some time.

@Blair: this tech shows ideas and potential, not a requirement to carry a digital device if u don't wish to. You are free to carry cash and your checkbook as long as u so desire.

@Joel: I must say your steps are very true.... But that would be a poor implementation... With steps like that, few will ever use. But as someone noted, NFC is very low power and if implemented correctly, could be efficient and easy to use. To be specific, I would imagine apple's iOS implementation will be just that, while Android or Windows may beat them to market but will likely falter with ease of use and implementation. They have always topped apple in terms of spec and features but Apple's iOS has perfected any feature they implement to make it usable by all.

Great article! I wonder, though, if people will want to "tap their phone into" so many items in a single situation? Maybe I'm being overly fussy, but I'm the type of person who gets upset if my keys brush against my iPhone 4...but in this scenario I'm touching my phone against posters, taxis, subway gates, etc. Is this more of a "wave device near" instead of "touch device against" interaction?

This technology, while already a daily use tool in Japan will likely take more time to adopt in North America and Europe primarily because of issues over privacy and security.

In Canada we are already using "PayPass" technology which is essentially the same concept. The user has a dongle attached to a keychain. Waves it over the reader at the gas station or supermarket and the payment is processed.

The other issue I think we will have to face as a result of NFC will be directed marketing campaigns which, depending on how quickly legislation reacts, could become even more invasive. Imagine walking into the mall and having the latest sales flyer pushed to your phone. A lot will depend on how vendors not only implement the technology but also how companies choose to use it.

As for some of the other arguments regarding carrying an external device - battery drain - app load times, etc. it is my assumption that the application would be far more integrated than most apps, we all have phones in our pockets already and battery technology is improving substantially every year.

So pretty soon the annoying part of living in the digital age will be the need to carry an external device to perform all of these functions?!

Time to invest in mobile implants research...

NFC is actually very lower power service. A few of the readers have pointed out some issues with NFC which are actually common problems with any technology going through an early growth with mass application. Joel Unger makes a valid point however I think it the usability and even the timing issues with any technology goes through growing pains. Specifically one that I've seen with the use of QRCodes is that it does seem to take a long time for my app to load to be able to take a picture and start scanning. However, the apps I've used (I was an early adopter) have gotten faster and better and I'm sure newer hardware has helped the situation. Actually timing myself going through these steps vs typing in the url shows that I do save some time. Also to keep in mind, some of us (me specificity in this case) don't type as fast as others. Having started to feel the affects of arthritis in my hands a few taps to scan a QRCode or NFC tag could be more important to me as time goes on. NFC and its supporting infrastructure will continue to improve and its adoption will gain speed as products and services adapt to how users really need and want to use the technology.

Very excited about NFC but is it's integration into Google iOS just a rumour?

Google have already announced Google Wallet services ( and have confirmed partnerships with prime retailers in the US so this is very much a near reality, and I doubt that Apple and Microsoft will be far behind.

There's a massive cost consideration for retailers, however, and the major banks in the UK have been reluctant at best to roll out service due to the cost implications for them to develop new consumer facing transaction platforms for the masses.

So, although it seems like a very near possibility it'll down to people like us who work with the finance houses and consumer organisations to put the pressure on and consistently highlight the benefits both to the user and their business.

Have written an article on this as well so may well submit it!

It sounds like a very powerful idea - and I see the benefits in a positive light, but I wonder if people will worry about privacy? I think it will be important how all this information is stored and the systems are set up with respect to privacy. But I think privacy is probably quite a culturally dependent thing, so the "take-up" might vary dramatically across the world. We'll see!

I wonder what the battery drain is like. Sure, Bluetooth and GPS have some great uses, but I selectively turn them on because of battery drain.

I doubt anything will be as simple as tapping phones. More like:

1) Find the app that uses NFC (Because NFC isn't on by default to to battery drain).
2) Wait for splash screen.
3) Wait for NFC to turn on.
4) Wait for your friend to do the same.
5) Tap, wait for app to process the data and continue with any number of further steps.

I probably wont use it for the same reason I don't turn on my phone's camera to take a picture of QR codes. Or for the same reason I don't use Google goggles or voice search. I can type a search query faster than I can take a picture or speak.

Definitely a fan of NFC! When I went to Tokyo last year, they used it for all sorts of things. Made a blog post about it too: