NFC: are we ready for mass market?

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Activity around Near Field Communications (NFC) continues to increase in intensity, with a range of partners involved in global tests to uncover how the contactless technology can be used to augment existing businesses and evolve into everyday life.

With an estimated 100 million NFC-enabled devices already in use worldwide, consumers are becoming more receptive to the technology. A recent survey conducted for Euro Kartensysteme found German consumers are becoming more receptive to the notion of using the tech for payments with contactless cards. Forty percent of a survey group of 1,040 Germans aged 18-59 said they could imagine making contactless payments in the future.

NFC isn’t just expected to impact payment systems - though 58% of Germans look forward to using it for parking tickets. They also expect to use it to pay for public transportation, shopping bills and grocery purchases.

What's important here is that Germans have not been among the early adopters of the technology. "Until now, the Germans have been more cautious compared with other nations when it comes to cashless payments," the survey findings conclude. "Now there are signs of a turnaround."

industry giants pushing NFC

With Apple, Google, Visa, Mastercard and a range of carriers already developing NFC payment systems, that consumers are preparing to use them implies a future mass market rush.

MasterCard's head of emerging markets, Ed McLaughlin, confirmed the rapid roll-out of NFC, when he said: "I don't know of a handset manufacturer that isn't in process of making sure their stuff is PayPass ready."

Contactless payment is just one option for short-range radio. Mobile ticketing is another. In South Korea there is an entire theme park based on using Microsoft’s Kinect technology combined with RFID wristbands. Attendees can create avatars of themselves and explore the park while interacting with the attractions.

spate of other NFC-related news

  • Both Visa and Mastercard have published their roadmaps for future electronic payments using contactless chips.
  • In Australia, two cinemas are pilot-testing an app that lets movie-watchers place orders and pay for popcorn while watching a film, with the nutritionally-dubious substance then delivered to their seats. Imagine if restaurants and fast food joints worked this way?
  • As part of a joint innovation program with Orange, air transport IT supplier SITA has introduced a proof-of-concept NFC-based system. This will act as passenger check-in, baggage check-in, security check-point, lounge access, boarding and post-flight info, which should improve the air travel experience.
  • Starbucks has introduced contactless mobile payments to its UK stores, following the US success of the iPhone app it introduced in 2010.

At the recent Near Field Forum in Germany last week, members demonstrated a range of interesting applications including:

  • NFC Patrol, from Hotech, showed NFC for patrol guards and security services management;
  • NFCampus had a management solution applicable to academic and similar environments;
  • NFC Art Pro, which supports cultural heritage activities and artefacts management.
  • ITN International, demonstrated innovative uses of NFC at conferences, exhibitions and other events
  • Sony revealed a range of healthcare solutions from different manufacturers which make use of its NFC Dynamic Tag chipset. These will include step counters, blood pressure monitors, and weighing scales.

With all this activity and Apple expected to widen use of these devices with the release of iPhone 5 later in the year, it’s clear the technology will impact extensively across business and personal life.

For more inspiring ideas about how NFC will impact our world, stay tuned for our infographic later this week.

Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.