Windows 8, WP8 & NFC
With the dust settling following Nokia’s announcements last week, and analysis of the new phones’ screen performance, imaging capabilities and wireless charging flowing strong (not to mention the obligatory scandal in the form of a not-so-genuine PureView advertisement), one new feature for both the new Lumia line up and Windows Phone 8 has received relatively little coverage; Near Field Communications (NFC).
Most commonly associated with mobile payments, NFC has experienced a slow uptake so far, despite the convenience it promises. Concerns regarding mobile payments sensibly center around security, and while such concerns can be easily resolved, NFC offers so much more capability than mere payments that it’s surprising how slowly it is being introduced.
Beyond payments, there are a few obvious areas that could benefit from this technology; mobile to mobile transfers, whether that be actual files or URL addresses (“Check out this website” *tap*) and the connection to physical peripherals being implemented by Nokia along with its partners, for example. The possibilities extend much further, however.
As excited as I am for the launch of WP8 later this year, I’m possibly even more excited about the launch of Windows 8 expected around the same time. NFC is natively supported in both, and the majority of Windows phones and tablets/hybrids being announced are shipping with the required physical chips, too.
NFC is finally about to hit prime time.
Having NFC capabilities in both your smartphone and tablet/PC allows you to finally link your various devices in a convenient and meaningful way, allowing transfer of files, media and URLs. HP have previously implemented such convenience in the infamous TouchPad tablet; although that didn’t strictly utilise NFC, and was only compatible with its specific phone counterpart.
Imagine the convenience of tapping your phone to your tablet to transfer the website, PDF, video, or other media you’re currently consuming. Even better; as you’re using compatible phone and tablet software, you’re returned right to where you left off, too (Microsoft already does this in the 2013 Consumer Preview of Office, where it gives you the option of returning to where you left off last time you were editing a document). And you can use this between any Windows phone and tablet, regardless of the manufacturer.
If that seems like a unique use-case, or not something you would find all that convenient, check out the below info-graphic produced as part of a paper into cross-platform consumer behaviour by Google, which shows the percentage of activities began on a smartphone, and continued on another device.
That’s a lot of cross-device usage, and an area that is largely untapped at this point.
There are a number of ways to achieve this kind of painless transfer, including the obvious cloud sync, but the magic of the instantaneous response of NFC is hard to resist.
And still, this is not even scratching the surface of the possibilities this technology offers. Where NFC will really shine is in linking your online experiences with the physical world around you. QR codes have done their bit in trying to achieve this, but their implementation has been generally clunky and they don’t interact with core phone features or applications. Luckily, Nokia are not ignoring this aspect or even delaying it. A number of exclusive apps they have announced, some of which will later be available to other WP8 phones, utilise NFC for sharing or QR code-style receiving of information; the Michelin app (restuarant reviews), for example, will provide participating restaurants with NFC stickers for their shopfronts – you will be able to tap your phone and instantly see reviews and information.
Samsung’s TecTiles are a fantastic example of an easy to use and cost effective real world implementation of this kind of technology, and HP are shipping similar NFC stickers with its newly announced all-in-one desktop – you can log in or transfer files with the tap of another device. Some others don’t even involve smartphones at all. A New York City tasting festival held in June this year provided its attendees with NFC enabled wristbands in order to place their votes for the favourite lobster roll and/or tequila, and post pre-templated messages through Facebook and Twitter. In a crowd that we have no reason to presume was particularly tech-savvy, 90% of attendees cast a vote and 340 opted for a status update or tweet. The festival organisers only brought the technology in three weeks prior to the event. It was that easy and successful to implement.
In the end, any technology that relies on its ubiquitous nature relies wholly on reaching a critical mass point. With flagship Android, Windows 8 (and Phone) devices now all sporting the chips, several mobile payments operators coming to the fore and companies as powerful as Samsung experimenting in real-world use cases, it could be NFC’s time to hit the mainstream. All we need now is for those rumours of its inclusion in the new iPhone to be true; now that would really push it into the limelight and out of obscurity. It was disappointing to see Apple leave NFC and any other semblence of innovation out of the iPhone 5; but that just leaves the window for that opportunity even further open, and makes it a point of differentiation.