A growing number of smartphones have NFC (near-field communication) capabilities to make mobile payments, but accessories and ultrabooks also now increasingly have the same technology. DeviceFidelity is offering a protective case with NFC that allows iPhone users to make contactless payments, and Barclaycard is offering a sticker that attaches to a smartphone for users to make mobile payments. HP is offering an ultrabook with NFC for data exchange with mobile devices.
NFC is a wireless data transmission technology that enables the exchange of uniquely identifiable data with receivers over a distance of a few centimeters. In theory, NFC can be used for things like tapping two phones together to exchange contact information or to slowly transfer files, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.
“Mostly it is being used for payment systems, with a special NFC reader device attached to a cash register or other retail kiosks,” Gold said. NFC can safely encrypt communications from the phone to the reader at the store location, but there are ongoing concerns about the encryption being broken.
NFC will ultimately make its way into tablets, “smart” portable devices and even wearable devices, Gold said. NFC is more advanced than technologies like RFID with two-way communication capabilities, interactive approvals and the ability to enable payments through mobile applications, Gold said.
A hindrance to wide use of NFC is the need to upgrade the infrastructure with new readers at payment terminals or kiosks, which is not a cheap undertaking, Gold said. Applications on mobile devices will also define NFC functionality, so the full scope of the technology has yet to be explored.
NFC in smartphone cases
DeviceFidelity offers protective cases with NFC for iPhone users to make mobile payments, and the company has partnered with Visa and MasterCard. The company this month announced the In2Pay iCaisse4X NFC, which is a protective case and battery pack with an NFC antenna. The case allows iPhone users to pay for products by tapping a smartphone to a reader. The case has microSD storage, which is necessary to initiate and authenticate user data for transactions. As a bonus, the case has a battery pack to power the iPhone.
DeviceFidelity sells directly to businesses, which will determine pricing for the case, said Stephanie Barrueto, marketing manager at the company. DeviceFidelity’s Moneto mobile wallet will come with the iCaisse4X NFC case later this year, Barrueto said. Moneto is currently available as a prepaid, US$79.95 MasterCard mobile wallet with a prepaid debit card, an iCaisse case for current and older iPhone models, a microSD storage card, an iPhone app and $10 pre-loaded on the card.
Barclaycard in the U.K. has introduced PayTag, an NFC sticker that can be attached on the back of smartphones to make contactless payments. The NFC sticker communicates payment information to a receiver at a payment terminal, and using a PayTag is easy and safe, the company said. The technology is an “extension” of a customer’s Visa credit card account.
The sticker is a third the size of traditional credit cards, and users don’t need to upgrade smartphones to use PayTag, Barclaycard said. Payments are limited to £15 (US$23) for now, but will rise to £20 in June, Barclaycard said. A number of U.K. vendors including McDonalds, Boots, WH Smith and Tesco have signed up to accept payments. Buses in London will be on board by the end of this year and the subway network in London will accept payments by next year.
Barclays is also implementing NFC in a new initiative called PayBand, a wristband that will be given to some attendees of the Wireless Festival 2012 in London between July 6 and 8. Tapping the band will help users pay for food, cut through lines for faster entry, access “luxury toilets” and get freebies, according to Barclaycard’s PayBand website.
NFC to stream music
Research In Motion has announced a device called the BlackBerry Music Gateway, which is a box that enables BlackBerry smartphones or PlayBook tablets to stream music wirelessly to a stereo system. Using NFC or Bluetooth, a RIM handset or tablet establishes a wireless connection with the Music Gateway, which is wired to a stereo. The BlackBerry tablet or handset is essentially a remote control, with the ability to change tracks or volume and to play or pause. But BlackBerry mobile devices need to support NFC to use the Music Gateway. RIM has listed the Music Gateway on its website for $49.99. PCWorld says the device will become available in June.
NFC in ultrabooks
Hewlett-Packard in January announced the $1,399 Envy 14 Spectre ultrabook, which has an NFC chip to pull data from other mobile devices such as handsets or tablets. A touch-to-share implementation of NFC allows users to transfer data such as the URL (uniform resource locator) of a map or website information from an NFC-enabled mobile phone to the ultrabook. HP conceded that NFC won’t be a major selling point for the ultrabook, but that it could become an important complementary feature as users find ways to exploit the technology. The Envy 14 Spectre ultrabook has a 14-inch screen, is 20 millimeters (0.79 inches) thick and weighs 1.8 kilograms (about 4 pounds). HP’s upcoming Envy Spectre XT, which has a 13.3-inch screen and will become available in June starting at $999, does not have NFC.
Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org