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.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: JB (Sep 09 2014, at 19:55)

"and you don’t even have to turn your de­vice on"

Is this correct?

From what I can see, NFC is only available (on Android) when the screen is on and the device is unlocked.

This has always struck me as a drawback, as for a lot of things that NFC would be perfect for, it adds too much overhead to turn on and unlock the device.

Still, baby steps.

J

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From: Henry (Sep 09 2014, at 20:36)

I'm with you on the higher hopes for NFC's future, but it's been around for a while without finding a killer app other than payment. In general, authentification/authorization could be the larger one. For instance, I'm looking for some kind of NFC wristband that irreparably breaks and can be paired with another device such as a smartphone, lock or car as part of multi-factor authentification.

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From: Chris Swan (Sep 10 2014, at 00:22)

For me the real action is in the phone as terminal applications rather than phone as token. I wrote about how Apple missed this opportunity a coupe of years ago with the iPhone 5 launch - http://blog.thestateofme.com/2012/09/16/apple-missing-the-point-about-nfc/

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From: Tomasz (Sep 10 2014, at 21:55)

Henry, Lenovo is trying to use NFC as conveniet means of unlocking phone: http://www.motorola.com/us/accessory-family-page-1/Motorola-Skip/motorola-skip-moto-x.html

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From: David Taylor (Sep 11 2014, at 09:50)

Tim,

I don't think the NFC part has any real significance. What is important is the payment system and its relationships.

Apple seems to have made deals with lots of vendors and, most importantly, with payment processors.

I agree Apple needs to let other implementations access the Apple Pay APIs but the means by which that occurs is the responsibility of each mobile hardware vendor.

Google failed for the exact reason described above.

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From: Henry (Sep 13 2014, at 03:54)

Tomasz, great stuff, reminds me of other vendor's (Sony?) NFC pins you could use to trigger device profiles (e.g. car mode, ring-tones, ...).

But.

They can easily be stolen/removed, so authentication is challenging.

A non-removable (i.e. breaking) NFC wristband is better for temporary purposes (or permanent if you dare). Imagine opening locked doors by just touching them.

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From: Dr.a.cula (Sep 14 2014, at 17:06)

Apple most likely won't release an API for NFC.

However, Apple has provide a white paper on ApplePay. You can get it from developer site.

You are suppose to use PassKit (Passbook) API to initiate ApplePay.

In which following is stated.

"The alternative is to provide your own server-side solution to receive payments from your app,

decrypt payment tokens and interface with the payment provider. Handling credit and debit

card payments can be complicated and unless you already have the expertise and systems in

place, an SDK from a payment provider is the quickest and most reliable way to support ApplePay in your app."

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From: dr.a.cula (Sep 14 2014, at 22:13)

Ok I went an read the NFC wiki.

All other uses of NFC

is covered by iBeacon.

1. Bootstrapping and other communication.

Apple already uses Airdrop to do Bluetooth sharing. No need for direct contact.

2. Identity. iBeacon has that covered..

3. Tagging is also covered by iBeacon.

Passbook has support for iBeacon so

your loyalty card and other can get activated

when you enter the establishment.

Apple is even configuring your new AppleTV when you put your iphone near it. This is just with bluetooth.

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