Near field communication (NFC) as an idea has been around since 1983 when the first patent was filed for the technology. Essentially, NFC produces a wireless signal only detectable from 10 centimeters or less. These signals can be used for many applications, which we’ll cover later.
From a mobility standpoint, the first phone to have NFC capability was the Nokia 6131 released in 2006. Over the years, multiple companies have tried to get NFC off the ground as a widespread interface technology. But for the most part, these efforts have not succeeded as many technologists might have preferred. From passing information between phones to cardless payment, many tech companies released hardware or software designed to take advantage of NFC, but adoption never followed.
That could all change this year.
The iPhone 6 is the first mobile Apple product equipped with the technology. The likelihood is pretty small that it’s appreciably different from any other hardware equipped with NFC. But what Apple has that basically no other technology company has is immediate adoption. In the first three days they were on the market, Apple sold more than 10 million iPhone 6’s. Much the same way that mp3 players didn’t take off until the introduction of the iPod, or smartphones didn’t explode until the launch of the iPhone (or how wearables will likely progress much, much faster with the imminent release of the Watch), some analysts predict NFC finally gaining significant market traction with the full weight of Apple behind it.
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The first, and shiniest, feature many analysts have latched onto for NFC is the act of payment. Apple has already made an overture in that direction with the announcement of ApplePay. And as interesting as payment is for NFC, there are countless other applications that could completely remake your day.
One of the first applications major chains have discussed is the idea of hotel keys no longer requiring an actual card. You would store your hotel “key” on your phone and simply get the phone close to your room’s lock. The lock would sense the NFC signal and unlock for you. Your car keys could be stored in the same manner… Imagine not having to carry around a huge fob and key in your pocket? You could place your phone up to your car door, unlock that door, then place your phone near the ignition to start the car without having to use your keys at all. The same could occur for your home if you installed smart locks on your doors. And the best part of all of this is that it’s actually more secure than regular keys because Apple’s iPhone 6 has fingerprint recognition technology. You would never have to worry about someone stealing your physical keys again. And even if someone did steal your phone, they couldn’t open your car or home doors without your fingerprint.
Tickets provide another large usage category. You could store your airline tickets on your phone and instead of having to scan a glorified QR code at the airport — which is finicky at best as it is — you could simply get your phone near the security desk and it would read your ticket from there. This would be even more efficient for public transit. Instead of having to refill a paper metrocard all the time, you would simply refill it on your phone and bump your phone against the turnstyle sensor to board the subway (or bus). No more lines at the refill machines! No more keeping up with your card or worrying about losing a plastic card that has a ton of money stored on it. And, you could program your account to automatically refill your phone’s “metrocard” if it gets below a certain amount. You could do the same types of things for concert tickets, sporting events, etc. The applications for tickets are enormous.
You could replace other paper products using NFC, too — think about coupons. Instead of carrying around a ton of coupons (or getting to the checkout counter and realizing you didn’t bring the one you meant to remember), you could store every coupon you might want to use on your phone. Then, when you tap your phone at the checkout terminal, it could apply every applicable coupon you have to the items in your cart.
NFC could also completely revolutionize interactive advertising. Imagine you see a cool poster for a movie you want to see, or a product you want to look up when you get home… These ads could come embedded with an NFC chip so that you could bump your phone against the proper place on the ad (probably highlighted on that ad) and download all the pertinent information you could want. Or it could show you showtimes and ticket costs in the case of a movie. The applications for improving advertising for both consumers and advertisers is a very real possibility.
Finally, sharing data between phones becomes very easy using NFC. So if you want to send a photo or a song to someone else you’re with, you don’t have to text it or email it to them — you can simply bump the phones and pass that information from one to the other. You could do this with contact information, business cards, songs, videos, photos, you name it.
If you’re thinking other phones can already do this, you’re right. But no other hardware manufacturer drives adoption the way that Apple does. And if NFC is ever going to truly get off the ground, the iPhone 6 will be the vehicle that makes that happen. And the best part is that the applications go far beyond payment.