Did Apple kill NFC? This is the question posited by Matt Witheiler, principal at Flybridge Capital Partners, on the tech giant’s role — or lack of — in the adoption of NFC.
In his guest column, Witheiler takes a firm stance on the issue, stating that following Apple’s iOS 7 announcement at the recent WWDC event, he believes that NFC for payments is “officially dead.” There was no mention of NFC at WWDC, a decision that only further cements Apple’s stance on the communications protocol.
As Witheiler points out, this is a troubling trend for NFC proponents, as Apple – along with its significant market share and estimated 435 million iTunes worldwide accounts – would almost certainly bring NFC into the mainstream. Apple’s continued rejection, however, means that if the technology is to realize its full potential – especially in payments – another vendor will need to step up to the plate.
Though Apple has decided against NFC for now, the tech giant appears to be making payment moves in another direction, biometrics. A new Apple patent has revealed that future iterations of the iPhone may include a fingerprint sensor.
Apple’s acquisition of Authentec has yielded a number of fingerprint sensor patents, but this latest installment defines a fingerprint sensor housed in the bezel, or darker edge of the device. Though not a new method – Validity demoed a similar solution for Android at CES this part year – Apple’s patent describes a sensor that is the width of an average user’s fingertip, only several pixels tall (between 1 and 8 pixels).
The patent also reveals that the proposed sensor will employ the swipe method, capturing a series of images as the user swipes their finger over the thin sensor bar. The specific intent for the fingerprint sensors are, as of yet, undisclosed. However, there is a strong possibility that the sensor could be used to secure financial transactions, among other utilities.
In the mean time, Apple’s decision to once again leave NFC out of the iPhone has led Witheiler to three main conclusions.
First, Witheiler stresses that timing is everything, that is, “being too early to a market can be just as disastrous as being too late.” The inclusion of NFC could be seen as a risky business decision for Apple as it means that there would be no guarantee the company would touch every financial transaction. The inclusion of NFC would open the floor to universal, third-party mobile wallet solutions like Isis or Google Wallet.
Witheiler’s second point is that NFC is looking for a problem that doesn’t need to be solved. He rehashes a criticism that has plagued NFC from the jump; many believe the current methods to already be sufficiently efficient. “I think one of the reasons NFC has failed to capture merchants or consumers is that the alternatives, be them a swipe of a credit card of the passing of some cash, are fairly sufficient,” says Witheiler. “Technology for technology’s sake is rarely good enough.”
Witheiler’s third point stresses that “being in control of your own destiny is superior to counting on the moves of others.” Witheiler sees NFC’s seeming dependence on Apple or similar provider for success as an inherent weakness, and a possible pit fall moving forward.
While Witheiler raises valid points, but his stance only represents one side of the argument. There is still a strong contingent that believes in NFC, and sees great potential the technology; potential that may go beyond payments.