Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Apple Doesn't Understand NFC

Rumours of NFC-enabled iPhones have existed since at least 2009, but such speculation and 'insider info' has proven to be false with every iteration of the device. Many Apple fans cite problems with NFC itself as being the reason for this, but, after Apple's 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, it's become more apparent that executives at Apple might not 'get' NFC.

Let's first look at some of the alleged reasons for Apple's consistent omission of NFC in iPhones, despite the fact that every other major flagship smartphone - be it Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone - has NFC hardware.

"Lack of standards"
The Independent reported that Apple had opted for an NFC-free iPhone 4S due to the lack of a clear standard across the industry. This is despite the existence and success of the NFC Forum, whose main purpose is to ensure interoperability across the industry through the creation and support of NFC standards.

Perhaps Apple were referring to the lack of an NFC payments standard, which would be acceptable due to the conflict surrounding control and use of NFC secure elements, but NFC isn't just about payments. In fact, it's arguable that the current main use of NFC in mobile devices is for data transfer, whether it be with a passive tag or active exchange with another smartphone or tablet. This is of course facilitated by an industry standard: NDEF.

Lack of demand
Following the launch of the iPhone 5, Phil Schiller, Apple Senior Vice President of Marketing, claimed that NFC wasn't what consumers "need today", and that Apple's Passbook wallet would suffice. This again ignores the myriad uses for NFC other than payments, but also ignores the growing global adoption of NFC technology. There's a perpetual stream of announcements of new rollouts of NFC hardware. Companies such as McDonalds and Orange wouldn't be investing so heavily in NFC if there wasn't demand.

WWDC 2013
None of the above seems to matter, though. Apple's Craig Federighi took the stage at WWDC yesterday to announce Airdrop for iOS7, which allows sharing of media with other iOS7 users who are nearby. While doing so, he said that there's "no need to wonder around the room, bumping your phone with others" - a comment in relation to file transfers initiated by NFC. But that isn't what NFC exchanges are about. The point of NFC file transfers is so that you don't have to press a 'share' button and then scroll through a list of people to send a file to; Bluetooth has done that for over a decade. NFC is for instant data exchange between two parties. If a person is shown a picture at a social gathering, a tapping of NFC-enabled devices will always be a quicker and easier method of file transfer than waiting for people to appear on a screen.

In addition to the speed of NFC, Federighi seemingly doesn't understand/value the standards-based nature of NFC. While Airdrop is limited to work only with those using the latest iOS7 device, "bumping your phone" with the other people in the room will work whether they're on a BlackBerry10, Windows Phone 8 or Android device.

Yes, the comment was very likely made in jest, but it's the latest in a long line of Apple employees failing to fully see the purpose of NFC in mobile devices. However, Apple's current public stance on NFC doesn't mean that there won't be an NFC-enabled iOS device in the future. After all, Apple originally left out native third party applications in the iPhone because they accused them of making phones "crash", before of course going on to become the leading distributor of third party mobile applications. What's to say a similar change in thinking won't occur with NFC?

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2 Responses so far.

  1. Anonymous says:

    They'll add NFC in two years and call it "revolutionary"

  2. If I could upvote Anonymous I would.. Apple really missed the boat on NFC, their loss! :)

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