The arrival of the new Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich could mark the beginning of a new era in smartphone development, an era which could see smartphones expanding into even more areas of our daily life. Smartphones have already made calculators, GPS devices, PDAs and other devices completely obsolete but could it do the same to your wallet? Imagine being able to collect business cards, payments and even IDing yourself with your trusty Android handset. This could soon be a reality, if Near Field Communication(NFC) takes off and we here and AndroidPIT think it will.
But what is Near Field Communication? How do you use NFC and what benefits does it offer? Is this really a game-altering development in the Android community or is it destined to go the way of the leaser disk?
The promo video for Google's NFC-based eCommerce solution, Google Wallet, portrays it as an all-purpose solution to all of your shopping needs. But is this just advertising hype or could the technology really be that good?
Smartphones and mobile Internet: One wish and it's yours!
Mobile internet and online shopping have made the concept of waiting for whatever product strikes your fancy obsolete. With the ability to shop from any corner of this far flung world of ours and even automatically scan a bar code and order a product from an online store, why wait? If something strikes your fancy in passing, it could be waiting for you by the time you get home.
Obviously, the prospect of instant gratification is attractive to both buyer and seller, which is where Near Field Communication comes into play. It promises to shorten the process even further, allowing instant transactions without having to be bothered with handling real money or being bothered making change. But the uses don't end there. With NFC you can instantly transfer information from one phone to the next without having to establishing any kind of next work or connection between the phones. A simple touch of the phone and the information jumps from one device to the next. This means business cards, maps, PDFs, or any other data format you can think of could be transferred with a simple gesture.
But with WiFi and Bluetooth, why do need a new transfer method? What does NFC offer? It's simple: NFC is faster, easier and more efficient.
How does NFC work?
NFC allows two devices to quickly transfer information when placed in close proximity. It's similar to the RFID chips you already know from security systems often used in shopping centers and movie rental places. NFC first debuted in 2002 but only recently was the widespread application in mobile technology a real possibility.
Three exciting uses for NFC
In “Card Emulation Mode” your NFC equipped smartphone could serve as a replacement for the thousand of cards modern life often requires. Credit cards, ID cards, Key cards, etc could all be replaced by your smartphone. A really interesting possibility would be the ability to create devices that automatically adjust themselves to your wishes when they detect your phone in the area. That means you would never have to adjust the AC, car seat, or set your alarm clock– this could all be handled automatically by your smartphone.
Reader mode allows your phone to be read like an RFID product codes or communicate with in advertisements in the street. For example, you could be walking down the street and see a movie poster for a film your want to see, you phone could communicate to the poster that you are currently looking at the poster, which would trigger the poster to start playing the trailer for the movie.
Peer to peer (P2P) communication between devices: With this function you can tranfer data to a friend between phones, or send a song in seconds. You can even set up multiplayer games or link webbrowsers just by touching the phones.
NFC could also be used to buy tickets, or even to check in at the airport and book hotels and rental cars. Its major selling point is the speed of communication, which is almost instantaneous without previous pairing, like Bluetooth. In return, the scope of NFC technology is very low, as it moves a maximum in the range of 20 cm, making it more effective in short distances, such as 4 or 5 cm.
For a feel of how NFC functions hands on, check out the following demonstrations:
Is NFC secure?
But with all this fabulous new functionality, it's only natural to ask if NFC is secure. As with all digital transfer technology the answer is yes and no. No payment system is 100% secure and NFC is no exception. Phones and servers can be hacked, access terminals spoofed and phones do have a habit of being stolen. This is one reason that implementation of NFC has been slow at best. But companies like Samsung, Visa, Mastercard and Google have been working to improve security and are finally at the point where they believe NFC is market ripe.
Google Wallet provides a good example of the offered security measures: all credit card information is encrypted and stored on a tamper resistant chip, which only allows access from a specific set of programs and authorized functions. Furthermore Google has three different pin codes: one for the phone, one to access Google Wallet and another needed to complete a transaction. While not fool proof, the system does over multiple redundancies to help prevent misuse of the built in payment technology.
Is NFC really the technology of the future?
In a word: Yes. NFC is the natural progression of most transfer and communication technologies, which have enjoyed popularity in the last years. If offers the same benefits of Bluetooth and is faster and easier to use to boot. While there are valid security concerns they are being addressed are not unique to NFC as a system but rather are common with all data transfer systems. NFC is an idea, who's time has come and I'm personally excited to see where Near Field Communication will take us.