As ReadWriteWeb’s Brian Proffitt explained last week, omitting NFC is a conscious decision that can be easily reversed in the future. But unlike earlier missing iOS features like copy-and-paste, multitasking, and yes, an SDK, NFC is far from a no-brainer addition to Apple’s flagship product. Critics are stuck in the usual mud of tracking technology rather than utility.
It’s no coincidence that the “Tech Specs” link atop apple.com/iphone is dead last. Apple’s best marketing has always been about what a product does, not what it has. Forget MHz and GB and mAh — how much faster does it launch apps? Play games? Snap pictures? Load web pages? How many hours of video and talk time? These are things that anyone can not only understand, but appreciate.
Behold the NFC issue. What can people do with it today? All we hear is what they should be able to do with it someday. Search the web for “near field communication” — the 2010 articles read exactly like the 2012 articles. And boy are they wordy.
“What can you do with it today?”
That’s the rub. NFC is one of those technologies that requires a lot of moving parts. It’s not just something you stick in a phone, it’s something that requires support by credit card processors to support transactions and retailers who need to update their processing terminals. Just sticking it in a phone is a recipe for disaster, and Apple doesn’t do disaster’s it can avoid.
And while NFC would be something Apple would build support into IOS for, I think it’s a technology crying for a developer API, and so it’s very unlikely Apple’s going to surprise the universe shipping it in a phone without advance warning to the developers. Imagine the joy among the developer community if iPhone 5 shipped with NFC, IOS 6 has a surprise API supporting it, and the only apps ready to use it were Apple’s and a half dozen key “special” partner companies?
No, when Apple does NFC (and I think it’s likely they will), NFC ought to be a WWDC announcement, with Apple coming out on stage and with their partners out doing the infrastructure showing up and everyone showing just how great NFC is going to be, once it ships in IO7 (or 8) on the iPhone 5S, and, of course, “here’s why you need to get going on your NFC support in your apps today!” as part of the show.
That give the partners (Visa, amex, Discover, etc) 6-9 months to build out the terminal infrastructure and developers a chunk of time to build the apps, and everyone some time to make sure everything works together and is ready to go. You’re not going to build an NFC infrastructure out into the retail market in secret, the universe is going to see it coming. So I can’t see Apple trying. Instead, it’s going to take the card processors to take a lead to build out the retail side of this, and then you’ll likely see both Apple and Android build it into their phones and OSes. One platform or the other might get a head start here as a preferred partner, maybe.
But NFC isn’t the kind of technology that you can stick in a phone, do the “look under your chair, everyone gets a car!” surprise with it, and expect it to succeed. It can’t stand alone, and the infrastructure won’t magically appear. And as of today, it doesn’t exist here in the U.S.
So NFC is this year’s “we want LTE” — the rallying cry of the geeks who expect a technology to ship years before the infrastructure needed to make it usable in any real way is actually available to support those who want to use it…