All future NFC phones should be compatible with existing contactless payment and transport systems introduced by banks and others, for example, those used on transit systems in Boston and Los Angeles, and at 7-11 and Office Depot stores. But that infrastructure isn’t pervasive enough to make that the main selling point of contactless handsets, said Serra.
“NFC enables more than just payments,” he said. “Think about being able to exchange information by tapping your device against someone else’s.” He expects manufacturers to initially pitch the technology as a way to connect a phone with another handset and device–for example, making it possible to tap a Bluetooth headset to a phone to have the two instantly pair.
“I think people will see a lot of value in that,” said Mohamed Awad of the NFC Forum, an industry body that has created specifications for NFC. “You can just tap a handset on a printer or laptop and it just connects. It’s so natural.” Although NFC can be used to transfer data at up to 424 kilobits per second–perhaps enough to transfer a document for printing, said Awad–it works best as a “helper” for setting up a higher-bandwidth Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection.
The NFC Forum is already working on certifying the first wave of NFC devices for the U.S. market, according to Awad. “We’ve got a batch of products coming through today,” he said.
However, as Serra points out, smart-phone manufacturers and carriers are now heavily dependent on third-party developers. “For NFC to be successful, the industry has to be app-centric and allow creative developers to provide ideas and apps that users want,” he said. Social networking apps that enable people to exchange information or play games using NFC are one possible example, and this could play an important role in making the technology popular, he said.
However, consumers will also have to feel assured that NFC is safe, said Jean-Louis Carrara of the security firm Gemalto, which makes chips for smart cards and SIM cards. “People will be interested in the security of their phones, their personal information, and their payment data,” he said, adding that NFC will likely make smart phones even more attractive to hackers. “Malware is rising on smart phones already,” he notes.