After the introduction of NFC in the smartphone market we’re now seeing majority of the latest top of the range releases with this feature and many ‘coming soon’ Smartphones to have near field communication built in according to speculations. Apple seems to have however decided that this technology is not significant enough as a feature to be included in their latest iPhone 5 handset. Owners of handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 may already know some of the benefits of NFC.

Are iPhone 5 owners really missing out on NFC? Is it really a technology for the future? Would we really embrace its benefits? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

The technology itself is simply a tiny built in RFID chip [wikipedia.org link] that is capable of sending or receiving information between other devices that also has NFC.  The technology is currently more commonly used to wirelessly exchange media files such as images, videos and audio between Smartphones.

Its potential capabilities are however endless and can may well be enjoyed in the future if adopted by smartphone manufacturers and others outside of the smartphone world. This includes mobile payments, ‘touch and go’ in underground stations and buses, payment for cab fares or unlocking of your car to name just a few.

Potential Capabilities

As mentioned above, making payments is quite possibly the first and best way to use NFC.  Touch a smartphone at the grocery store or boarding a bus and be on the way with no holdups or long waits for transactions to take place.

Since NFC requires a tag that does not have power, there are more uses than simply loading and unloading information and transactions.  Use a tag to silence a phone, open a specific page of Google maps or even tweak volumes as necessary.  The uses are only limited by imagination.

Advertising is certainly possible and businesses are already considering ways to incorporate NFC.  The now ubiquitous QR code could easily give way to NFC tags since the tags could point consumers to social media, promotional videos, coupons and tickets.

For the businessperson on the go, NFC tags could carry considerably more information than simply a business card.  Imagine the card but a LinkedIn profile, phone, directions to the office and many other potentially useful bits of information, all with the tap of the phone.

Potential Problems

Of course on paper, this technology sounds excellent and inspiring, but like with anything new and upcoming, there may be problems.  Mobile payments, for example, are already popular with various companies.  Google Wallet is well-established and the Isis project is in full deployment with the major mobile phone networks AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile over in the US.   Credit card giants MasterCard and Visa have their own NFC services and other companies are vying for a slice of the NFC pie as well.

Passbook from Apple and various apps mean the NFC could be outdated before it is even fully integrated.  Banks already have various payment services in their apps, and payment companies such as PayPal and Square have no need for NFC.

Despite a muted interest, many new smartphones have NFC on them, and companies will continue to develop NFC applications.

Security Issues

Honest and genuine fears about NFC are not without warrant.  How long before cyber criminals decipher ways to hijack sensitive information or redirect a smartphone?  While these concerns are valid, NFC can be turned on and off, encrypted and password protected.  Additionally, the extremely close proximities of less than 4cm mean a thief must get very close to steal information from a smartphone.

On the positive side, NFC requires both communication points to be extremely close (virtually touching) to each other unlike Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection.

Current Use In The Market

Currently, there are no real statistics for NFC use on a large scale.  There are devices on the market, but the number of people using them is still nebulous at best.  Of course, after determining who is using it, what is their opinion?  Good, bad or indifferent?  Many questions abound and few answers have surfaced.

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