Can Samsung make NFC tech happen? Not with TecTiles

Samsung's TecTile programmable stickers seek to popularize near-field communications technology for mobile devices. But the effort is weak.

Let's face it: in today's world of electronic mobility, we do things within our phones, not with them.

We can forget them on the bus, drop them, flush them and even hurl them at housekeeping. (Hell, we can even blend them.) But that's the extent of our relationship with the things.

Almost everything we do with the smartphone is contained in that little screen. As objects, we abuse them. We don't really use them.

Samsung wants to use its corporate largesse to change that. The company says it has the most near-field communications-enabled devices in American consumers' hands -- all those Galaxy S III, S II, Nexus and S Blaze devices do the trick -- and it seeks to use that user base to propel NFC technology into regular use.

How? Through the use of TecTiles, cleverly named programmable stickers that, when tapped with your phone, automate a task -- such as sharing a business card, checking into Foursquare or connecting with someone on LinkedIn.

Samsung says the stickers are best used to automate everyday functions, such as silencing your phone when you enter a meeting, or resetting an alarm for the next morning. That's the consumer pitch.

For businesses, Samsung says the stickers can be used "as a way to market to and engage with consumers by enabling reward programs and to download discount offers or content."

The $14.99 packs of five stickers are available from AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile; a corresponding app can be downloaded from the Google Play store.

As with anything like this, it's all about adoption: the TecTile is D.O.A. unless both consumers and businesses take to it. First they need to hear about it, then they need to see how it solves a problem.

The company told my CNET colleague Jessica Dolcourt that TecTiles are really a warmup act for mobile payments:

Part of the problem, according to Samsung, is that ordinary people are unused to physically using their phone to do things. Consumers know how to swipe cards and punch numbers, not to press a phone onto a terminal and authorize payment through an app.

A fair point, but I feel this effort is woefully misguided. The pitch is weak and the barrier for use high. (Are you really going to purchase a sticker to set your morning alarm?) If the company wants to accelerate the adoption of NFC technology -- really, truly gain traction -- it's going to have to work with major partners to kill off plastic cards entirely.

(Ironically, the title for its announcement is "Samsung Mobile Puts All the Pieces in Place to Bring NFC to the Masses." Hardly.)

Until I can leave them all at home, tapping my way through the city, there's no hope for NFC. It's not the technology; it's the fact that a tap doesn't improve upon the swipe enough for vendors and consumers to switch. I want to get rid of all the plastic in my wallet, too -- but too few vendors have the incentive to change. And in the case of TecTiles, which require both effort and money for a trivial payoff, I suspect few consumers will have the incentive to even try them.