Apple may be avoiding the short-range NFC, or near field communications, wireless protocol for yet another generation of the iPhone when the company debuts the iPhone 5S. According to leaked information pertaining to iOS 7, Apple will instead use its AirDrop technology, which allows file transfers over the WiFi protocol that’s already present in all generations of the iPhone.
AirDrop, a local peer-to-peer wireless file sharing software, was introduced by Apple with the debut of Mac OS X Lion. The company may be porting that software to the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch with iOS 7, according to a report on Mac Rumors, to allow iOS users to share files wirelessly in the same way.
Sources say that the AirDrop functionality is currently integrated into the standard iOS share menu. AirDrop will work between two iOS devices and potentially between an iOS device and a Mac. The feature will make it easier than ever to transfer, for example, a photograph or document from one person’s iPhone to another person’s iPad.
While iCloud synchronization works well for sharing photos and documents between two iOS devices owned by the same person, the AirDrop feature will allow seamless individual file exchanges between iOS devices belonging to different people.
This would allow for local file exchange without requiring Internet connectivity. And though AirDrop works with WiFi, it could be used over a WiFi ad-hoc connection between two devices, like tethering, which would not require a base station, modem, or router to be present.
For iOS and OS X users, this means increased compatibility as WiFi is present on all devices running these operating systems so you won’t need to upgrade your PC to share a file between phone and Mac, and you don’t need your friend to have an NFC iPhone to share a file with them either.
Apple had managed to sideline NFC for its mobile wallet implementation thus far. With Passbook, Apple is using bar codes and QR codes where merchants can scan tickets, loyalty cards, and gift cards, rather than requiring merchants to implement new credit card readers that have NFC readers embedded in them. This eliminates the hardware burden for consumers and for merchants in the mobile wallet segment.
Another feature of NFC that’s popular so far is tap to share. On Android and Windows Phone with embedded NFC chips, users can share contact information, photos and videos, and files by tapping two compatible devices together.
Lastly, a third use for NFC today is to pair Bluetooth accessories. This allows users to tap their smartphone to a Bluetooth and NFC-enabled speaker, for example, to pair the two devices together, eliminating the need for cumbersome passcodes.
And while Apple had filed for patents related to NFC applications in the past, it’s unclear if Apple is taking a hard stance against the technology or if it’s waiting for NFC to become more mature before adopting the wireless standard on its devices. Though found in devices on competing platforms, NFC use is still largely limited at this time.