iPhone 5 NFC Rumor Trying To Make A Comeback

NFC and wave-and-pay technology was one of the first big iPhone 5 feature rumors in 2011. Now, with a bit of new NFC-related news from Mastercard, it is making its way back into the iPhone 5 conversation. But is there really anything in Mastercard’s recent comments to suggest that NFC will definitely be on the iPhone 5?

Today, new stories are breaking about the renewed prospect of NFC on the iPhone 5. The stories are coming by way of a recent interview with Mastercard’s emerging markets executive Ed McLaughlin, who had this to say: ”I don’t know of a handset manufacturer that isn’t in process of making sure their stuff is PayPass ready.” When pressed on whether this statement involves the iPhone 5 as well, his response was middling: “Um, there are…like I say, [I don't know of] any handset maker out there… Now, when we have discussions with our partners, and they ask us not to disclose them, we don’t.”

Of course, you know what’s now happening: this statement is getting transposed into an affirmation that Mastercard is gearing up for NFC on the iPhone 5. If you recall, Sony has similar gaffes last summer in relation to the 8 megapixel camera rumor for the 2011 iPhone. While the Sony stutters turned out to be revealing, we cannot assume the same for this statement.

Instead, I think that Jonny Evans over at Computerworld offers some grounding on this issue when he notes, “A quick reality check: NFC is in the field. Many Android handsets are compatible with the solution, and Google offers Google Wallet to drive the payment system. However, it’s fair to say that no one is using it,” remarking that Android is already malware-prone, which makes users reluctant to interface their personal finances with it.

Everything that Evans says above is correct. For our part, we have to consider how the fact that no one is currently using NFC on Android impacts its chances for being implemented on the iPhone 5. A more conservative perspective would argue that, like 4G LTE last year, the public isn’t quite ready for NFC technology, and Cupertino knows it. This is why they didn’t include it in iOS 5 and the iPhone 4S. It would have been “easy” to include and, from a marketing perspective, it would have made the iPhone 4S seem less like a refresh. That being said, if Apple knows that NFC isn’t going to sell well — or at the very least get used by a plurality of iPhone users — there would be no sense for them to risk investing in it for the iPhone 5.

But there is another school of thought regarding the iPhone and the current unpopularity of NFC: smartphone users might be waiting for Apple to roll it out.

There is an analog to this NFC discussion: the tablet computer. It isn’t as if tablet PCs didn’t exist prior to the iPad. In the consumer electronics industry, the know-how existed long before the iPad to make a tablet. However, the market itself had the expectation that apple would have to be the one to make the tablet mainstream, and until Cupertino released the iPad, the tablet market would be kept in waiting.

NFC might be a similar market segment: users are assuming that Apple will have the most innovative mainstream solution for bringing all of the features and issues of NFC into one acceptable, marketable package. It is assumed that they will have the answers for making it easy and fun to use, while also allowing for the utmost level of security. Even Mastercard themselves acknowledged this, as reported by Gotta Be Mobile: “Interestingly, though, despite MasterCard’s early partnership with Android and Google, McLaughlin highlights that Apple’s participation in NFC is needed to bring the technology mainstream.”

Will Apple take up the challenge to make NFC the next big thing in mobile computing?

By Michael Nace



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