To NFC or not to NFC?

Summary:Apple filed two NFC-related patents in the past three years, but it hasn't used it in any products to date. Should Apple put NFC chips into the next iPhone? Strong cases can be made either way.

Rumors have been swirling that Near Field Communication (a.k.a. NFC) technology will be included in the next-generation iPhone, but the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth (In January it was on, now it's apparently off.)

The most hyped use case for NFC (also called "contactless") is allowing a user to make a payment with their smartphone -- by waving it in front of a reader terminal. But NFC is more than just payments, according to the NFC Forum it's also for sharing and pairing:

NFC tags contain simple data or elaborate instructions that enable them to perform such functions as unlocking doors, paying for goods, launching phone calls or exchanging data between users.

While waving my smartphone to buy gas or to pay a parking meter sounds convenient, many aren't convinced.

Although add-on NFC peripherals are available from third-parties, there are only two smartphones that ship with NFC hardware: the Nexus S and the new Nexus S 4G from Samsung and Google. And while NFC contactless payment terminals are installed in places like San Francisco's AT&T Park since 2006 -- they haven't exactly taken to the world by storm (remember the Mobile Speedpass?)

It remains to be seen where NFC  falls in the Apple's universe of priorities and if it will roll it out in the iPhone 4S or 5 -- largely believed to be coming in the Fall.

Apple filed two NFC-related patents in the past three years. The first one was filed in September 2008 for electronic event tickets and the second in August 2009 for peer-to-peer financial transaction devices. Clearly Apple's interested in NFC, it just hasn't adopted it yet.

People are worried about security because NFC is really just an embedded RFID chip combined with a reader on the other end. Sure, there's that video on how to "skim" numbers from RFID-equipped credit cards -- you usually have to enter a PIN or CVV (which isn't skimmable) to complete the sale.

On one hand Apple has a track record of leadership in mobile technology and it's probably irritated that Android was first to release NFC-based smartphones, but on the other hand Apple has been reticent to adopt technology before there is a critical mass to support it (witness the original iPhone's lack of 3G). Apple could easily sit this one out and skip adding NFC to the next iPhone entirely.

What's your take on NFC in the iPhone? Should Apple build it into the next iPhone? Would you use it if readers were installed where you shopped?

Topics: Hardware, iPhone, Mobility, Smartphones

About

Jason D. O'Grady developed an affinity for Apple computers after using the original Lisa, and this affinity turned into a bona-fide obsession when he got the original 128 KB Macintosh in 1984. He started writing one of the first Web sites about Apple (O'Grady's PowerPage) in 1995 and is considered to be one of the fathers of blogging.... Full Bio

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