NFC: Finger-Lickin’ Good

When I first saw near-field communications (NFC) working on a mobile phone, I was impressed. Parrot, the accessories company, used a Nokia 6131 to demonstrate how NFC made the Bluetooth pairing process much quicker and easier. By simply touching the device to a speaker or digital photo frame, a Bluetooth connection was made. What a brilliant use of the technology, I thought.

A few months later we received two Nokia 6212 classic devices equipped with NFC for evaluation. Within a few minutes I was touching the phone against all the preconfigured tags that came inside the box. Each tag performed different functions, from changing your profile to silent mode to setting your alarm to a preset time. Touching the two phones together made sharing contacts and content a breeze.

There seems to be three obvious uses for NFC:

  • Service discovery
  • Sharing
  • Payment and ticketing

NFC touchpoint on London Underground

Payment and ticketing appears to be the most valuable to network operators, and the one that’ll prompt manufacturers like Nokia to put NFC into phones in the first place. But for me service discovery holds the greatest potential. I like the idea of using NFC as a discovery aid. For example, you might have seen the poster shown on the right in various Underground stations in London.

NFC could be used as a geographical marker. Swiping your phone at a touch point would provide travel information such as maps and directions related to that location. I’d certainly find this useful, as I often use my phone to find my way around London. Perhaps NFC could improve the satellite fix time of my GPS, tell me which exit I was at or even guide me around the Underground system.

Nokia has made it clear that services are an extremely important element of NFC. Combine such services with payment and billing and we could end up with something that might appeal to the average phone user. Imagine if every time you swiped your phone on the Underground (instead of an Oyster card), you paid for the transaction, and you phone told you which train to take and in which direction.

I think content sharing might also appeal to the average user. People could swap content and contact details by just touching phones together. With the right service integration this could allow them to add each other to a social networking site or update their profiles. The Nokia 6212 classic also tracks the number of touches made, providing a competitive element to making contacts.

I’m extremely optimistic about NFC’s role in the coming years. A lot of people see payment as the big goal, but in the long term I’m expecting to see more people using it for much more.