It would appear near field communications (NFC) are coming to the iPhone. NFC has been around for a while in other devices but has never really taken off in the mainstream. But now that it might be included in the most popular smartphone, we might ask how does NFC work and what does it do?

Techradar: What is NFC and why is it in your phone?

At its core, all NFC is doing is identifying us, and our bank account, to a computer. The technology is simple. It’s a short-range, low power wireless link evolved from radio-frequency identification (RFID) tech that can transfer small amounts of data between two devices held a few centimeters from each other.

The main reason NFC gets included in phones is to replace your wallet and its various cards. Instead of pulling out a credit card or store member card, you pull out your phone. NFC has never been something that interests me for two main reasons. I quit carrying a Costanza Wallet a long time ago. My current wallet is closer to a large money clip than a traditional wallet. So, being able to pay from my phone will not help me there.

I also do not see any difference between quickly pulling a credit card out of my pocket versus pulling my phone out of my pocket to pay at check out time. Sometimes it is easier to pull out my wallet than it is to pull out my phone. How much of a difference does it really make to wave a phone within centimeters of the register versus just swiping the card?

This is where the iWatch becomes very interesting. Check out what John Gruber had to say.

Daring Fireball: Paczkowksi: ‘Apple Plans to Announce Wearable in September

Follow-up joke: It would be cool, and would make a lot of sense, if the new wearable thing had the same magic payment apparatus.

If this is true then it changes my view a little bit. A watch is always out on your wrist; this location can actually improve the payment experience. You can expect whatever system Apple employs to be compatible with new chip and PIN credit card systems which obviates the need to sign.

There are a few implementation problems that I am interested to see addressed before I could switch all of my payments over to my phone. These include:

  • Paying at restaurants – how long will it be until restaurants have machines that can come to your table? You certainly aren’t going to let the server take your phone to some remote place in the restaurant to process a payment.
  • Paying with different cards – I view my financial setup as being pretty simple; I carry just three cards (one credit card and two debit cards). What is the mechanism behind paying with these different cards using my phone? Will the NFC payment system be tied to the credit card on my iTunes account? This does not sound like a good solution because I do not want to always pay with that card. If the iPhone will let you store multiple forms of payment then how will you choose between them? This type of complexity, unless it can be handled intuitively and quickly, will prevent people from using this payment method.
  • Paying for things online – this might seem out of place when writing about a payment method that lets you wave your phone, but I think this is important to consider. I occasionally buy things from online retailers that do not have my card information, so I have to enter it. This is no big deal when I can just pull out my card. I realize Safari already has a way to auto-complete credit card information. Does the new system operate separately from the current Safari system? This would be unfortunate. Anytime your credit card information changed you would have just one more place to remember to update. Apple would be wise to unify their payment systems so you are using just one account for in person purchases or online purchases.


  • No matter how they have done it, September 9th is going to be a fun day.

    NFC, the iPhone, and iWatch’s killer feature
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