by Robert P. Sabella
I, like others in the industry, am bemused by the rash of annual articles that resurface every year about how this is going to be THE year for this or that technology. And NFC is no exception. Subsequently, last week I wrote about the reasons why 2013 will NOT be THE year for NFC. Though it may not be THE year for NFC, I did want to take the time to follow up on last week’s article with some observations that indicate why this could be a very exciting year for those of us who believe that NFC is a transformational technology.
Out of any number of possibilities that could emerge, here are a handful of the top reasons I think we will see a great deal of progress in the NFC industry in 2013:
As I mentioned last week, no matter how much people (e.g. Square, PayPal) talk about NFC not happening, you cannot put the genie back in the bottle. With mobile network operators (MNOs) getting firmly behind NFC, not to mention all of the payment players — including retailers, it is just hard to see how NFC doesn’t get traction. Throughout last year, the market was hoping that NFC technology would experience a burst of adoption as more handsets became available. Some even hoped for widespread commercial rollouts. Though this may not have taken place, I think in 2013 we will see more pilots and rollouts and it will prove to be a great year — even if not THE year — for the technology.
At the end of 2012, one of the major carriers announced that of the 15 smartphones that they were selling, 12 would have NFC capabilities. That is a lot of NFC phones hitting the market. And we continue to see this trend repeated by the other carriers. So in effect, NFC will become like the camera or Bluetooth feature in each of the current smartphones. Sure, some people may not use it, but how many people don’t use their phones as cameras? Think about it, the camera and Bluetooth components in smartphones were once a hot commodity, with only a select few possessing the capabilities. However, in time, these features became almost standard in smartphones. Won’t the same happen with NFC? Once a critical mass of people become aware of the convenience, ease-of-use and capabilities that NFC enables, NFC will emerge from a technical concept to become a commonplace application enabler. Beyond the smartphone, we see NFC being embedded and used in lots of other devices like Wii, PlayStation, and Nexus Tablets, among others being announced regularly. In fact, companies, including Broadcom, have announced NFC chips or set top boxes, with more introduced last week at International CES 2013.
Last week at CES 2013, we saw a number of new NFC-enabled applications and uses introduced to the public, everything from LG’s kickoff announcement of its new line of “smart” appliances to Sony’s new TV remote which works hand-in-hand with NFC-supported mobile devices. Following its announcement of the Xperia Z smartphone’s TV remote capabilities, Sony claimed that it had more NFC devices in the market than any other company.
In upcoming months, we can expect to see an increase in innovations with NFC tie-ins and more commercial deployments taking place in countries such as Australia, Germany, Italy and Spain. We may very well witness several sizeable commercial service launches. While NFC will begin to take shape in developing countries like China and Brazil, we may finally experience greater NFC expansion throughout North America, France, Poland and the UK in 2013.
Though Apple decided to snub (once again) NFC with its latest iPhone release, the power of this frictionless technology did not fail to be noticed by the cadre of iPhone devotees, not in small part due to the cleverly funny advertising done by Samsung. Fortunately, there are some real, viable options for iOS users who want to use NFC despite Apple’s noticeable reluctance to introduce an NFC chip into the iPhone or other iOS devices. Take for instance, Device Fidelity, who has been ahead of the pack for years in providing iPhone users an NFC option with their innovative phone cases (which by the way, also extends the phone’s battery life). Alongside Device Fidelity are companies like Flomio, a startup that offers a platform for developers seeking to build NFC and RFID-enabled applications. Recently, the startup introduced its latest innovation—the FloJack—a pocket-sized NFC reader and writer that plugs directly into iOS devices via the headphone jack. A new year means new NFC speculation around the next iPhone. Already the chatter has started again about Apple having to include NFC in future releases. Regardless, I think we will see some momentum inside the iOS community this year.
Throughout the years, the NFC Forum has done an outstanding job in moving NFC standards along, and not just the NDEF message standard. The organization’s hard work through their standards committees will ease the way for universal adoption. Just this past week, the NFC Forum announced an agreement with the Global Certification Forum (GCF), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and the Wi-Fi Alliance, which will certainly assist in expediting the availability and use of globally interoperable NFC-enabled solutions.
In 2012, we saw a mass of NFC pilot launches, most notably, the roll out NFC mobile wallet in two pilot cities. We can expect to see this trend carry on, with 2013 playing host to a significant increase in projects with the lessons learned from those pilots being used to enhance future deployments. In addition to payment trials, 2012’s U.S. Presidential Election in November 2012 demonstrated to the public just how real and valuable NFC technology is in terms of social, cultural and educational uses through the Rock the Vote campaign, which was launched by an NFC Bootcamp alumnus and two of our sponsor companies.
I think the story for NFC in 2013 NFC will be around non-payment applications. Undoubtedly, mobile payments will serve as a vehicle in generating the hype surrounding NFC technology; however, it is the social, advertising and other non-payment uses that will truly excite the everyday consumer, at least in the short term. There are enough devices now in the marketplace that developers can actually start developing useful, fun applications consumers can start using immediately. In the past 18 months alone, we observed NFC applications in the Android market go from just a few apps to more than 1000 apps and counting. This year we expect to see that number grow exponentially once again. The sooner consumers can actually gain familiarity and begin using the technology, , the sooner they will benefit from its power and potential. Devices and easy-to-use development tools are going to make a big difference for NFC in 2013.
The industry has done a less than stellar job in educating the various parts of the NFC ecosystem about the technology and its use cases. For the past several years, we have been having the same chicken-or-egg discussion among ourselves and haven’t seen what has been going on around us. As I mentioned before, influential industry players like Samsung have done a fantastic job with their innovative and funny advertising campaigns … but more needs to be done. Lo and behold, here I insert a shameless plug for the NFC Bootcamp™. The NFC Bootcamp — formed by industry veterans — is the longest and best-known global education effort for the awareness and adoption of NFC technology. Yet, we still need more companies to help us spread the word to people outside the NFC ecosystem about how NFC can change the way they do business, interact with their customers and live their lives.
All in all, I think while not THE year for NFC, I think it will prove to be a very good one and certainly transformational in many aspects. Only time will tell.
About the Author:
Robert P. Sabella is founder and CEO of OTA Training, LLC. OTA is a global leader in RFID and NFC training and certification. OTA Training is the creator and producer of the NFC Bootcamp™ series, the first globally standardized NFC training program. Robert brings more than 20 years of entrepreneurial experience to OTA and is considered one of the most innovative leaders in developing and bringing new technologies to market.