The Hills Are Greener: Will Apple Ever Come Near NFC?

The Hills Are Greener: Will Apple Ever Come Near NFC?

Feb 18, 2013

The idea that our phones could replace our wallets is an idea steadily picking up steam: look at Passbook, for example. The biggest hurdle to being able to just carry one device around is definitely credit cards, though. It’s possible for mobile devices to serve as credit cards on NFC-enabled readers: an acronym for Near Field Communications, NFC allows for payments to be made using just a simple tap. It’s known as PayPass with MasterCard vendors, and chains such as Walgreens and McDonald’s have it integrated in their stores. Chicago Transit Authority is introducing Ventra, a way for NFC-enabled credit cards (and eventually phones) to pay to take buses and trains. While Chicago already has a contactless payment system in place with the Chicago Card, the ability to just use an NFC credit card or NFC mobile device is an added layer of convenience.

The problem with NFC payment adoption has been two-fold though: one, no one can agree on a standard quite yet. Google’s pushing Google Wallet, but several of the carriers are pushing ISIS, which could win by default because it could come installed by default on millions more phones than Google Wallet. Just as long as it’s run in a better way than the ISIS spy agency is.

Secondly, Apple hasn’t gotten into NFC payments yet. So, widespread adoption of contactless payments is naturally lagging behind because a large chunk of the mobile consumer market technically cannot.

Now, if Apple did get into contactless payments, say by using iTunes stored credit or integrating ISIS (probably not Google Wallet), then surely it would take off, right? With Android and iOS phones both supporting it, there would be plenty of incentive for the systems to be set up in a more widespread manner.

However, much like Flash, Apple could be hindering the growth of NFC. By not supporting it, and severely limiting its market, NFC may not be able to grow, and Apple may not see any reason to adopt it because it isn’t mature enough. Apple does jump in late to technologies like 3G and LTE when they feel they’re ready and can best take advantage of them, after all. But there’s no sign that they’re jumping on to NFC any time soon. It’s a chicken and the egg scenario.

Well, what if Apple gets left behind? What if the major carriers pushing ISIS and/or other NFC payment methods takes off? What if Apple, instead of strategically juping in when they’re ready, is forced to play second fiddle and be a follower instead of a leader in the adoption of the technology, forced to integrate it because the idea of a mobile wallet drives people to Android?

NFC is still not a killer practical technology like wi-fi, and its lack of widespread actual implementation even as the technology exists in people’s Android devices like the Galaxy S III is not a good sign. So Apple could still dictate the parameters of the game. But right now, Android is on the cutting edge of this technology. But will they be able to actually cut at Apple with it?