If like us you were watching the unveiling of the iPhone 4 at Apple’s WWDC to see if the much hyped NFC addition to the iPhone was going to be announced – you were in for a disappointment. With so many contactless/NFC industry commentators banging on about how Apple could ‘save/boost’ NFC applications (including the Economist!), yesterday was the equivalent of a very hard slap in the face. Yes, Apple is probably going NFC in the future. Sure, they probably think it could enhance their coffers in terms of iTunes store sales through NFC payments at concerts or whatever. However, not right now. Probably in June 2011 in the iPhone update. Maybe.
What has this really taught us? First, don’t wait for handset manufacturers to act as industry saviors. It’s not in their interest until a viable ecosystem exists for them to make money out of. Secondly, it’s not about the hardware as such. Alternatives exist today, be they stickers, tags, micro SD cards in phone cases – you name it. It’s already here. These alternatives are not stop-gaps or interim solutions. They’re the finished product. In terms of software, developers are already developing in-phone wallets that interact with these hardware add-ons. And more software apps seem to be popping up everyday.
The real long-term solution would be to get implementors to adopt contactless technology and accept payments in this fashion. We, as an industry should perhaps stop looking to the back-end (the handset) and start to look forward (the retailers, hospitality vendors etc) and actively engage those who would put NFC payments before the public. We see a mass of NFC trails and pre-launches happening but a coordinated approach across markets and regions would work better than country-defined engagements. Whatever hardware or software is involved.
Fact is, this is a great opportunity for the likes of Wireless Dynamics or DeviceFidelity, or SCM Microsystems, or Twinlinx or ViVOtech or the other myriad of developers who can introduce NFC to a handset without needing an embedded chip on board. With so many trials and pre-commercial rollouts happening across Europe, Asia and the United States its the industry’s chance to focus on the end-user instead of the front end handset.
So Apple didn’t release the iPhone 4 with NFC. Get over it. We don’t need an NFC embedded handset. We have alternatives, and there’s still work to be done.