Friction Free Communications

Photo of Google Wallet illustrating friction free communications
Google Wallet Terminal Photo courtesy Paymentmax on Flickr

Near Field Communications

NFC Rumors Infographic

  • A projected 1 in 5 smartphones worldwide will be NFC-enabled by 2014.
  • The Yankee Group estimates there will be 203 million NFC phones on the market by 2015.
  • Frost & Sullivan puts that estimate at 863 million.

THOUGHT: I first discussed Google Wallet back in May when the company first announced the technology in the context of mobile commerce.

Google is rolling out the actual Google Wallet app this week to Sprint’s Nexus S 4G phones, which already have a Near Field Communications chip installed in the hardware. The chip allows you to conduct encrypted financial transactions with a mere wave of the phone within short range of another NFC-enabled device or terminal.

This is the holy grail of retail.

For years, retailers have been trying to make it easier and easier to buy stuff. Look at how easy it is to buy an app from Apple on your iPad or one-click purchases at Amazon or the self-serve checkout aisles at your local grocery store.

Friction-free commerce is the aim: make it effortless to buy things.

Back in the day, when the the Internet was relatively unknown and the World Wide Web was just over the horizon, I read an academic paper written by a handful of computer scientists that addressed the concept of ubiquitous computing, positing that computer technology must eventually become invisible, so to speak. Today, you focus a lot on the technology rather than the thing you want to accomplish through the technology.

The authors used eyeglasses as an example. Spectacles are a technology that improves your sight; once you put them on your face, they make your sight more powerful yet they become largely invisible. You don’t focus on the glasses, you focus through them.

In that way, they said, computer technology needs to become invisible, effortless. We’ll get a long way toward ubiquitous, invisible computing with the widespread adoption of Near Field Communications.

And it won’t just mean you’ll now be able to buy a Coke from a vending machine even if you have no spare change.

Right now, you can embed information and URLs into offline objects through the magic of QR Codes but for that to work, it still requires you to dig through your apps, find your QR code scanner, launch the app, scan the code, wait for the app to recognize the code, and then, usually, click on a link that will launch a browser that will eventually take you to an online location.

I’ve always thought QR Codes are a transitional technology and it is very likely that NFC is what they’ll transition to.

Since you can embed NFC chips in pretty much anything, now you’ll be able to share contact information effortlessly through the use of NFC business cards; you’ll be able to purchase movie tickets or watch a video trailer from an NFC movie poster; be admitted to a concert through an NFC turnstile. The technology can even work through television sets, so advertising will get smarter, mobile, and interactive.

The applications are limited only by our imagination, it would seem.