After years of looking at the technical side of NFC, I have begun to focus more on NFC from a consumer — or user — experience point of view. As NFC takes hold, as NFC devices constitute a larger and larger share of the market, it’s worth looking at the consumer experience to see what challenges users are facing when trying to use NFC. For as we know, it’s ALL about the user experience.
- You gotta turn it on.
- You don’t just “tap” it.
- WiFi saves you money but kills the NFC experience.
- Every time I put my phone down, it beeps.
- There still aren’t many places to use it.
Nowadays, almost all smartphones and tablets — other than Apple (iOS) devices — ship with NFC installed. But just like Wi-Fi, the user needs to go in and turn it on. The default was set to NFC off to preserve battery power and, according to product literature, to give the user the option of using or not using NFC. I have NFC turned on all the time and haven’t found it to be much of a power drain at all. So I’m assuming the issue really being addressed is user choice: letting the user decide to “opt in” to using NFC by turning it on. It makes sense, just like it does for Wi-Fi. This is really no big deal. In all the phones I have seen, you go into Settings, More Settings, and slide the NFC bar to ON. The problem here is we need to let everyone know they have to do this in order for NFC to work.
To be fair, let me point out that my Dunkin Donuts app — based on QR codes that you don’t have to turn on at all — NEVER works. I’ve given up and gone back to using my DD smart card. At least once you turn on your NFC, it usually works; though first you have to learn what “tap” means. Read on.
I love using the word “tap” to explain what you need to do to make NFC work. Unfortunately, it isn’t really accurate. The actual physical experience is more like “place and hold until you hear the beep.” Some people say we should change the phrase to “touch,” while Samsung says “beam.” I’m OK with “tap,” as long as we find a way to explain what the user really has to do. Otherwise, people will just “tap” and nothing will happen. I’ve heard that some ISIS studies showed that people’s first experience with NFC was horrible. No one could figure out how it worked. But once someone showed them just one time, it became intuitive. The lesson here is that we need to get people past that first “tap” experience before they’ll start using NFC. That means better training for salespeople in the stores and an easy-to-find video included with the phone.
I love using Wi-Fi on my phone, and I believe most smartphone users do. To avoid large data usage bills, I always keep Wi-Fi on so we can latch onto any open Wi-Fi connections my phone can find. But there’s a problem. In public WiFi spots like Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Panera, Marriott, and others, you have to first accept the terms of their free Wi-Fi usage policy before you can begin browsing. What this means from a user perspective is that you tap and nothing happens. In the background, somewhere on a browser, you are getting the screen that asks you to accept the terms for the free Wi-Fi. The problem – and it’s a HUGE problem — is that you cannot see it. So you tap for NFC, hear the beep and then … nothing. Talk about killing the user experience.
If you don’t keep Wi-Fi enabled all the time, then this is not an issue. But if your Wi-Fi is always on, like mine, this is an NFC killer. So someone needs to write an app that automatically accepts all terms of free Wi-Fi service or we need to do a lot of education around this issue. I would welcome people’s thoughts on this one.
In a world where we hope to see NFC tags EVERYWHERE, has anyone thought about what happens when you put your phone down on a table or a leather binder or a menu, and your phone beeps? The phone is reading something, but it may not be something that you’re actually interested in. For example, I collect an NFC business card from someone at a trade show and put it on a stack of cards on my desk or even in my binder. What happens? Every time I put my phone on or near that stack or on the binder, then I get a beep. Remember, this is ONLY if you keep you NFC on all the time, like I do. Nonetheless, it is not a good user experience.
Since NFC is RFID, anytime the electromagnetic field of the phone picks something up — and it may NOT be an NFC tag — it beeps. It could be a 14443 non-NFC tag, or, as in my recent experience at a Panera, maybe it’s just something on or under the table, something I was never able to identify but that made my NFC reader in the phone beep like crazy. For all of you techies, I did try to put an NFC tag UNDER the table to see if I could create a covert advertising campaign, but the table was too thick for the phone to read the tag through it. But it sure was reading something … In the RFID world, this would be called “ghost reads.” We need to do a lot of education around this issue or people will get sick of the random beeps and they will just turn off the NFC feature and never turn it back on.
I put this last, because technically it isn’t a user experience issue. But in my world, it’s still almost impossible to find somewhere to actually have a user experience with NFC. We are seeing more and more implementations and experiences like Disney interactive posters in France, retail wall in Moscow, delivering video content via NFC at Comic-Con, and more; however these experiences are not widespread yet, and have a long way to go before they become commonplace. But I’m armed with my NFC phone, searching for that great NFC experience.
About the Author:
Robert P. Sabella has 20+ years of legal and entrepreneurial experience and is considered one of the most innovative leaders in developing and bringing new technologies to market. He is the founder of the NFC Bootcamp™ training series and has recently co-founded the AccelerateNFC incubator program, dedicated to fostering start-ups in bringing NFC technology to the market. He is co-author of RFID+™ and a prolific writer and speaker on NFC and RFID.