The Applepalooza today banged the payments drum pretty hard. I dunno, payments are difficult. I had a close-up view of Google’s struggles with Checkout and then Wallet, and Google has way more server-side culture and expertise; so I’m not holding my breath. But NFC could be a really big deal.
Refresher · NFC is like RFID only weaker and more constrained; it basically doesn’t work unless the two NFC devices are physically right up against each other. This is a feature — you can’t use it without establishing intimate contact.
It’s cheap! There are all sorts of NFC variations, passive and active, secure and insecure, but the cheapest, passive devices that come on rolls like tape and emit a URL or other small static data when touched, can be bought in huge quantities at vanishingly small cost. You can use ’em like QR codes, only instant, and you don’t even have to turn your device on.
There are lots of great NFC-based apps running right now in the Android world, where you can push pictures or keys or URLs or whatever from phone to phone. In my experience, they Just Work. The APIs are developer-friendly.
The Problem · Androids have had the APIs, and most devices have had the hardware, for years now. One problem has been Apple; there are lots of apps that don’t get built when a huge proportion of well-heeled customers can’t play. Well, now they can, in principle.
Payment and… · Yeah, there’s no doubt that payment is the application that’s getting the headliner attention. But it would be tragic — tragic — if Apple didn’t provide an open API to that nifty NFC hardware.
Here’s just one sample application, because it’s the kind of thing I’m thinking about these days. Suppose you want secure communication, which means you’ve got a private key on your phone. And suppose you don’t 100% trust your phone-unlock setup to protect access to your key. Well, you carry a little NFC doohickey on your keychain, and when you need to use the key, you pull it out of your pocket and tap the back of the phone with it.
There is a large and interesting class of problems where pushing bits across narrow gaps is useful. For a subset, requiring actual physical intimacy is a must-have; for the rest, it’s not a problem. So here’s hoping Apple publishes a sensible API in iOS.next. Something like this.