It’s been rumoured that Near Field Communications (NFC) is dead – rest assured, it isn’t! I have also overheard several rumours that suggest Apple have finally integrated NFC into their next generation iPhone. Well, I made the same prediction a couple of years ago about their iPhone 5, which was released in September 2012, but it never happened - didn’t I feel like a silly billy?

In fact, a number of ‘patented’ images of the new generation iPhone have appeared in numerous stories across the Internet, all of which do seem to allude to an NFC chip integrated into the new phone. But, I hasten to add, with the iPhone 5 I saw a pre-launch (allegedly authentic) image of the same thing, which led to my earlier prediction! So, I guess, this time, I’m a little hesitant to offer any prophecy and become the foreseer of all things NFC-enabled since, for me, it’s déjà vu all over again.

The Phantom Debit

The likes of Samsung, Google, Microsoft and several others have already adopted NFC into their handsets and, likewise, have supported the technology in their respective mobile Operating Systems (OSs). Yet, Apple have trodden a different path. No doubt some of you are already aware that Apple have developed iBeacon; a technology that’s enabled with Bluetooth low energy or Bluetooth Smart, which seem to offer two primary applications. I’m sure you’re on the edge of your seats, so here goes: the first is a location or proximity-based application, whilst the second is a contactless payment scenario, where you don’t even have to take your wallet out at the Point of Sale (PoS) terminal to have your funds automatically debited. You what?

Yep, this is an age of technology where ‘phantom’ debits can now be made from your account without the hardship of reaching for your wallet! Call me old fashioned, but I still like to offer permission for someone to debit my account. Being a movie buff, I can liken it to when Ceaser (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) offered his palm to Will to seek permission before venturing into the forest for the first time – I too choose to offer my palm whenever I present my debit card. Ordinarily, with any transaction, I’m presented with a PDQ terminal and am required to enter my Personal Identification Number (PIN) – well, there you are, authorisation granted! “You may indeed take my dosh!”

Apple’s iBeacon proximity-based functionality, where push notifications of special offers and other junk you have opted-in to are fed directly to your screen seems an ‘okay’ application, but an automatic debit at a PoS is, for me, grossly unnerving and unrealistic as a consumer-wide proposition.

NFC’s Innate Security

You see, with an NFC contactless transaction, I have to reach for my wallet, just like with any other purchase, but instead of entering a PIN, I simply touch my card at the terminal when prompted by the cashier to do so. I have already used this feature with my debit card at a range of retailers. What’s more, and what’s comforting to me is that I have to be in proximity, no more than a few centimetres or so away for it to work. Most importantly, I’ve demonstrated intent, that is, an intent to use my contactless card to make the purchase within a time-frame needed to complete the transaction. In essence, this provides NFC with one of its most unique, innate security features.

It’s a feature not only limited to a time window and proximity, it’s further enhanced by the financial operators supporting a contactless transaction ecosystem and, rightly so. In short, the number of transactions that can be completed in a day is typically no more than three; once you have exceeded this threshold, you’re then required to use your PIN – something which I have personally experienced. Furthermore, each transaction value is limited to no more than £20. Admittedly, the philosophy of a contactless transaction requires a psychological shift needed by consumers to build confidence with this new purchase scheme, but I’m sure we are all still paranoid about who’s watching us when we enter our PIN. Nonetheless, if anything is going to generate a greater sense of paranoia it’s those phantom debits, right?

Who Makes the First Move?

The industry is unfortunately pushing the contactless payment scenario as the primary and sole application that NFC, as a technology can offer – but crikey, there’s so, so much more! Perhaps this blinkered perspective of NFC’s potential may have seemingly stifled its wider adoption and awareness. After all, NFC is everywhere, but how many consumers know that NFC empowers a host of subway and other entry access for buildings and so on?

Inevitably, with a new technology, a steady uptake is required before it reaches mainstream consumerism. Just look at Bluetooth wireless technology, for example: Bluetooth was conceived as far back as 1994 but, arguably, it wasn’t until say 2002 and, later, where a gradual adoption occurred. In fact, I dare say, it wasn’t until 2010 and after where it became a ‘must have’ feature in your mobile phone. I would suggest that NFC is treading a similar path to wider adoption and, surely, we don’t have to sit on the edge of our seats waiting for Apple to make the first move! As I have already mentioned, Microsoft, Samsung and Google are just some of the industry leaders that have already embraced the digital wallet, but it’s those other industry pundits that bemuse me, as they continue to ponder Apple’s next move.

NFC’s Potential is Endless

I’m sure there will be fun at the fair for avid Apple followers, as the tech giant releases yet another generation of their iPhone and iPad products. And, of course, the big question that will be asked by the industry is: “Did they integrate NFC?” And, if they did, then what does it do and what will become of their iBeacon technology?

‘iHope’ Apple does indeed include NFC in its new phone, as their gesture will help foster a greater awareness of NFC – not just for the contactless payment use-case, but for a host of other applications. With a mere ‘touch,’ if you like, you can garner promotional material, rather than it being pushed to your mobile device; engage with your social media audience about products and services, restaurants and other retailers to inform them of your good (or perhaps not so good) experiences; and perhaps, it will further regenerate a sense of brand loyalty where consumers can even more readily engage with their chosen brands.

My gosh, NFC’s potential is endless.

Until next time…

So, I have avoided a prediction and rather, have taken the stance, “Que sera, sera.” NFC needs that final push into mainstream consumerism, along with that psychological shift, as its potential is simply innate. And, let’s not forget, with a simple touch, numerous scenarios and applications are spawned. I just can’t wait!

So, this is where an ever-so eager Dr G signs off.