It is amazing what stuff we always carry along with us! Things like wallets (or equivalent), imagine trying to organise the contents like ATM cards, customer shopping cards, ID cards, door electronic cards and, maybe even, cash. Then there’s my key ring, which has keys it is no easy to identify and probably will never need. To make matters even more complicated, some of us might be gadget freaks. On an average day we probably have a smartphone and an iPod player on us.
Imagine replacing your smartphone with one that contains a near field communication (NFC) chip. At its most basic level, near field communication is a standard for very short-range radio transmission. How short are we talking about? A pair of NFC transmitters can communicate at a maximum of just a few centimetres. Some chips are designed so that the only way they send and receive information is if you’ve touched the device you’re carrying with the one with which you’re going to communicate. So an NFC chip can send communications across a short distance. What’s the big deal then? We have chips that let us communicate throughout a building or even beyond. Why would anyone want to use a chip with such a limited transmission range?
There are already smartphones on the market with NFC chips that will let you purchase items just by holding your phone close to a receiver at a cash register. There goes the need for carrying credit cards. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – with the right smartphone and apps, this could greatly change our lives (I mean those holding them)!
While NFC technology can do many things, the task most people think of tends to be making payments with a smartphone. It’s a clear, easy to understand scenario. You’ve finished shopping and you walk up to pay for your purchases. You whip out your smartphone, hold it up to a receiver at the register, type in a quick PIN to identify yourself and the purchase charges to your electronic credit card.
There are already applications that make this method of payment compelling. In 2011, Google announced Google Wallet and Google Offers, a pair of products that take advantage of NFC technology. The basic function of Google Wallet is what we just talked about – replacing your physical credit card. But it can also store other information like customer loyalty cards and special offers.
Here is an example: there’s a particular coffee shop you go to frequently. To encourage customer loyalty, the shop has a policy that for every 10 cups of coffee one buys, you get a free cup. But that means one has to carry a card so that the barista can punch it every time you buy some coffee. If the coffee shop starts to accept Google Wallet and if you have a phone with NFC capability and the Google Wallet app technology can keep track of everything for you. Just have to use your phone to make the purchase and it will register how many cups you have bought since the last free one. When it’s time for a free cup, the phone will send that information to the store and you won’t be charged.
But feeding your coffee addiction isn’t the only thing NFC can do. At CES 2012, Yale Lock demonstrated another use for NFC. The company had built special electronic locks that use NFC to lock or unlock doors. Holding your phone up to a pad on the door sends a signal from the phone to the lock. The lock disengages and you can get inside. Great, now we’ve eliminated the need to carry credit cards, loyalty cards and house keys!