You likely have heard the acronym "NFC" and the term "mobile wallet," maybe even read an article or two about how one day you'll use your smartphone as a credit card.
But like many new technologies, you really don't understand what the NFC hubbub is all about.
Let me try to explain what will soon become a brave new NFC world.
The NFC technology
NFC stands for near field communications, a short-range wireless data connectivity standard that works when two NFC devices are within an inch or two of each other.
NFC is sometimes referred to as "contactless" connectivity - the two NFC-endowed objects don't need to touch each other to talk, i.e. exchange data, with each other.
But we all feel more secure with physical contact to complete a transaction. My guess is, the phrase "you can tap that" will soon take on a whole new NFC connotation.
NFC can transfer any kind of data, from security codes to passwords to financial data to music or images. Samsung's new Galaxy S III smartphone contains the widest variety of NFC features - for instance, you can tap two GS3's together to quickly exchange photos or video.
But within a few years, all smartphones - in fact, nearly all devices around your home - will be NFC enabled. NFC could soon become as expected and ubiquitous as an on-off switch. Your HDTV doesn't have NFC? How quaint!
What can NFC do?
Why will NFC become ubiquitous? Because it is such a versatile why of automating connections between disparate devices.
Soon you'll be able to:
- tap an NFC-equipped tablet to your Wi-Fi router to create a Wi-Fi connection without typing in a password
- tap your digital camera to your NFC-equipped HDTV to transfer photos and videos
- tap a digital camera to a printer to create an automatic wireless link to print photos
- tap an external Bluetooth keyboard or your smartphone to your HDTV so you can more easily search for shows
And this is just the tip of the NFC iceberg - bigger brains than mine are cooking up all kinds of NFC connectivity applications.
Open doors with NFC
In fact, along with its Galaxy S III phones, Samsung is making available something called TecTiles, small programmable postage stamp-sized NFC stickers that can be placed anywhere to automate smartphone activities.
Touch a GS3 to a programmed TecTile to automatically dial a number, send a pre-written text, email or Tweet, post an automated update to a social media site - I suggest you check out Samsung's TecTile Web site for a more effusive overview.
TecTile-like NFC stickers could soon be found everywhere you know see QR or bar codes - it's a lot easier to tap an NFC spot on an ad on a wall to get more information on a product or service than to scan a code.
And of course, NFC in your smartphone will awaken myriad tap-to-enter applications. You'll soon be transform your NFC smartphone into a movie ticket, a transit card, an airplane boarding pass, sweepstakes or lottery ticket or entry, store coupon, loyalty card and, of course, a credit card. Any place where you now have to use an entry card or ticket or have a barcode scanned will be replaced by your smartphone.
You may even be able to use your NFC smartphone to check into a hotel and turn your smartphone into a room key without interacting with a human. Or, even use an NFC smartphone as the key to your house or apartment - in fact, it might replace all your house or office keys.
Your local supermarket or drug store shelves may soon be filled with NFC tags. The idea is, you tap your smartphone to the tag as you put the item in your cart. Tapping the tag also may activate coupons or discounts, automatically add credits to your loyalty account or alert you to sales or specials elsewhere in the store.
NFC will also help you get around the store. Once you tap an item, the "store" knows where you are. So if you just tapped a jar of peanut butter, the store can tell you the bread is two aisles over.
When you're done shopping, you check out and pay for your shopping load with your phone - no waiting on long counter lines, no swiping of credit cards.
You may not even need a cart - just stroll through the store tapping items, pay for them, and the store will deliver them. And all you've used is your smartphone.
Again, bigger brains than mine are contemplating all manner of NFC tap apps.
Smartphone as credit card
Of course, NFC will enable you to use your smartphone as a credit card - or as multiple credit cards, hence the term "mobile wallet."
All three major credit card companies - American Express, MasterCard and Visa - have all agreed on standards to make the smartphone-as-credit card experience seamless. No need to carry a load of credit cards when you already tote your smartphone.
In addition, major banks and financial institutions, major retailers and the cellular companies are all hard at work building the NFC infrastructure, which will include a wide variety of mobile wallet apps.
The fly in this NFC ointment is the current lack of NFC phones - there are currently fewer than a dozen, most from Samsung, Nokia and BlackBerry.
The number of NFC-enabled smartphone models is expected to jump to more than 90 in the next year - and this explosion in NFC-cable smartphones may or may not include Apple's forthcoming iPhone 5.
But I'll have more on how this NFC ecosystem is being constructed and by whom tomorrow.