NFC Comes to Windows, and Madrid

Microsoft has suggested that it plans to include NFC capabilities in the hardware spec for a future version of Windows Phone.  In itself this isn’t really news, Android 2.3 already has NFC support and Nokia will include NFC support with this years Symbian phones. Samsung and Motorola are launching NFC capable phones too, in fact the only major player not to have made an announcement about NFC is Apple.

What Microsoft’s announcement does mean is that it looks like the tipping point has been reached where NFC will become a standard feature on mobile devices.

NFC has been around for ages, but it hasn’t been widely rolled out because of a chicken and egg situation with the technology that makes NFC devices useful, for example payment terminals etc.

The hardware manufacturers seem to have gathered enough momentum now that NFC handsets will become the norm within a couple of years, and Verifone – the people who make chip and pin terminals – have announced that all their payment machines will support NFC in future.

Google recently announced a trial where it will hand out NFC payment terminals to shops  in a couple of locations, and now Telefonica – O2’s Spanish parent company – have done something similar.

Telefonica are handing out 12,500 NFC phones to employees at it’s Madrid HQ. Samsung are providing the phones ad Telefonica are going to trial the technology for payments at it’s staff canteen, opening doors and operating vending machines. They are also going to encourage local businesses to accept NFC payments in an attempt to create a small NFC ecosystem to see how it works in the real world.

Once we all have NFC phones and the shops all accept NFC payments, the battle is going to between the banks, credit card companies and perhaps some new comers over who gets the cut of the purchases that merchants will have to pay to use the service. There’s speculation that Google may try and step in to this role, but becoming a bank seems like a big leap even for Google.

There’s more at stake than just processing fees though, the information about what you’re buying, where and when is going to be extremely valuable, and with NFC there are going to be more ways to use it.

Imagine that you just bought an iPad 2 using NFC on your phone. Your phone is linked to your email address which you use to sign in to various online services so those services can display ads for iPad accessories, apps, insurance, magazine subscriptions etc. From there it’s not such a big stretch to imagine digital advertising screens like the ones on London’s tube network watching out for people with NFC phones approaching and displaying relevant ads as you walk by.  There’s no reason it couldn’t be fine tuned further by displaying ads for local businesses that, based on your purchases, you might like and giving you the option to send a map with a walking route from your current location straight to your phone.

It’s all a bit Bladerunner for my liking.

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