Wednesday 16 January 2013

The NFC advantage that counts... for the people

There is a lot of buzz nowadays about if NFC is going to be THE payment medium of the future or if QR codes, geofencing, bumping or any other technology is going to dethrone the king even before it becomes the king... even if the future of payments is going to be dominated by not one, but an ensemble of competing technologies.

Curiously enough, those discussions regularly omit the benefits for the end user. And ultimate convenience when replacing the wallet completely and not just for payments.

The fact is that NFC is going outside the traditional payment/transport arena to other domains like identification or access control, like hotel doors and even social media business cards (see if you don't believe me)

And while as security enthusiast I can vouch for the increased security NFC secure elements can offer if surrounded by the proper trusted environment... I don't think consumers care that much about it or even distinguish it from other types of "secure" software-only apps.

But I'm writing this piece because I see NFC with one truly great advantage for the end users. And finally I think the battle will not be decided by the banks, payment networks, telcos or manufacturers (unless all of a sudden they ALL agree to work together). It will be decided by consumer adoption.

The advantage NFC has so far (it could change in the future) is the ability of "waking up" your phone and the corresponding app after tapping.

Think of it, you just pick your phone up and tap on your hotel door and the door opens or asks for a pin to open, tap on a POS (point of sale) and the proper payment app will be displayed, get close to your car and it will configure itself to you (assuming multiple drivers) and unlock the doors, getting into the office will open the door, boarding a plane? tap the sleeping phone; taking the metro? tap the gate and get the usual itinerary, going to the movies? tap and the select your extras... etc etc.

Can't you do all that with other techs? well yes and no... you could use bluetooth or WiFi, but you will need all the apps "monitoring" those channels actively... your battery will be gone in hours and not all the phones will be able to do it (iOS ones for example, but they don't support NFC either, so mixed thoughts here... btw it is not possible on Windows Phone either).

NFC still needs improvements like being able to set different payment apps for different shops or things like that. But it offers one big advantage over other contact-less ways of interaction: convenience.

Consumers want simpler, more convenient and more useful things, not the opposite... and they expect security. If key players in the industry start leveraging this advantage and the competitive technologies do not come up with something similar; NFC still has the opportunity of fulfilling its promise.

I don't want to take my phone, look through my 140 apps, choose the app, wait for it to open to, only then, open my house door, take the bus or pay for a coffee...