In August of this year, with a Kickstarter pledge goal of £30,000, a United Kingdom-based startup, NFC Ring, received pledges of over £240,000. NFC Ring is just the latest in a line of innovative new capabilities that indicate a bright future for Near Field Communication (NFC) technology.
What is NFC? It is a set of technology standards that can be used to established radio communications between smartphones and other devices when they are touched to each other or are in close proximity to one another (typically no further apart than a few inches). Until recently, most of the excitement has been around the ability to perform touchless payment transactions. Applications include authorizing a credit card payment, passing through a turn-style to board a train, etc. To be clear, much of the near-term spotlight will continue to be focused on transaction-oriented applications of NFC technology. They’ll become more and more mainstream as millions of smartphones begin to use the capabilities.
A world full of other equally exciting opportunities, however, is now being imagined. One example is the intersection of NFC and automobiles. In 2011, NXP Semiconductor and auto electronics manufacturer Continental announced plans for smartphone-based keyless entry. In 2012, Hyundai announced plans to include NFC-based locks and ignition systems in its cars (wonderful news for those who misplace their keys but maybe not so great for those who misplace their phone?).
Since those announcements, though, wearable devices have burst onto the technology scene. The NFC Ring mentioned earlier can be used to unlock your smartphone when you pick it up and, conversely, lock it when you are no longer holding it. As NFC Ring and other wearables are enhanced, they should also be able to provide the ability to unlock your car as you reach for the door handle or start the engine when you place your hand on the steering wheel. The ring can even be customized to provide other capabilities, making it possible to have it do things even the creators of it didn’t imagine!
A lot more progress is required for this new age of interconnected devices to be fully realized. First and foremost, standards adoption must continue. For example, unlike Nokia, Samsung, Google, and others, Apple did not include NFC in its iPhone 5, opting instead to introduce its Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) based iBeacon technology — for now, at least. As always, there are rumors about iPhone 6 but we’ve learned not to pay much attention to them (a recent GigaOm post provides more details on the evolution of these competing technologies for any of you who are interested).
Regardless of how the competition plays out, the reimagining of what smartphones and wearable devices can do to make our lives simpler and more secure has begun. Whether NFC standards emerge as the winner or not is something for the technology suppliers – and the market – to determine. Given how exciting some of the capabilities are, let’s just hope the competitive landscape doesn’t slow things down too much.
NOTE: This will be the last Trend Tuesday of 2013. Everyone have a joyful and safe holiday season. See you in 2014!