In a Fragmented Market, NFC Is More a Nuisance Than a Benefit

Near Field Communications, or NFC, technology promised to help make our lives easier by allowing us to quickly share information, pay for goods, and pair new devices wirelessly without complicated pass codes by merely tapping two items together. Android brought NFC technology into the mainstream consciousness with features like tap to share and Nokia extended that through Bluetooth accessories with NFC sensors that will quickly pair with a smartphone by tapping the two items together. However, with Android, Windows Phone 8, and BlackBerry all with NFC radios, two questions that should be asked are: 1) if the technology is simplifying the lives of smartphone owners and 2) why Apple, which has a large user base of iOS adopters, has not adopted NFC technology?

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Despite Google’s best push–through its Google Wallet efforts that have been stunted by carriers and through cool technologies like tap to share on Android–NFC has not really gotten mainstream momentum. Is it a geeky and cool technology? Definitely. Is it consumer friendly? To a certain degree, though more consumer education will be needed to take the technology mainstream into practice. I’m always surprised at how many consumers are amazed about tapping to sharing on compatible phones, and when it works, it really is cool.

And that’s a bit if–if it works. Right now, even on Android handsets, there are some incompatibility issues. On many of Samsung handsets, NFC file transfers are handled over a WiFi Direct method so for a while, it was incompatible with even the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which we had pointed out in our assessment of the Galaxy S III. And the Galaxy S III, when it was released, was incompatible when using tap to share with other handsets from other manufacturers, creating a chaotic mess for compatibility.

And there are always multiple platforms to add to compatibility issues between friends, families, and groups. I’ve been using a Windows Phone 8X by HTC, otherwise referred to as the HTC 8X, and many of my friends have Android handsets. All our devices in my tech circle have NFC chips, so theoretically, I can just tap between my Windows Phone 8 smartphone and a Galaxy S III or a Galaxy Nexus and share anything from contacts to photos and files to videos, right? Not so fast. Some things work and some things don’t.

While sharing of webpages and contact information cross-platform between Android and Windows Phone work fine, sharing of files and photos does not.

Alone, these compatibility issues must be worked out before adoption of NFC can pick up for consumers. Perhaps, this is the big reason why Apple opted not to include this nascent technology on its iPhone 5. When Apple announced the device last month, many onlookers were disappointed because NFC was not on the tech specs roster, but given that the NFC digital wallet market wasn’t even maturing (thus providing Passbook as a better option with scannable barcodes) and also the added incompatibility issues, I think it will be a while before NFC is truly useful. Right now, it’s just too difficult to figure out what works and what doesn’t on the fly, so typically, between our friends, we just rely on the cloud to share files.

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