NFC – near field communication – was one of the most exciting developments to come out of IDF 2012 in San Francisco this year. This technology can be used between two devices so they can “talk” to each other with or without touching, usually at close range. There’s quite a few applications of this technology already out there, for example, zero-contact payment systems, e-ticket smartcards, mobile payments, virtual wallets, public transport, box offices, and more.
But what does NFC have to do with next generation Ultrabooks™? For one thing, the next generation of Ultrabooks is slated to have NFC integration, which along with a partnership between Intel and MasterCard will bring a whole new experience to online shopping. But there’s more to NFC than just shopping (although that’s certainly an incredibly convenient development!). In this article, we’re going to take a high-level view of NFC integration. We’re going to take a look at current developments, what’s going on in this space, and where NFC might be going, based on current industry news, pundits, and thought leaders.
NFC as a data conduit
We took a look at HP’s Spectre Ultrabook device in a recent Windows 8 article, and truth be told it’s a mighty impressive machine (it better be for that price tag). The Spectre comes with near field communication incorporated into the form factor, and reportedly will be compatible with NFC-enabled Android smartphones.
Now, just to be clear, NFC in the Spectre is not programmed for e-commerce. Basically it looks like it serves as a transportation portal between what you’re doing on your phone and your computer. For example, say you’re checking out brownie recipes on your phone’s Web browser. Rather than laboriously sending each of these sources to your email address to check later, you can just lay your phone down on the Spectre’s palm-rest NFC-enabled location, and the phone will “speak” to your computer’s Web browser, saving yourself quite a bit of time and energy.
Another use for NFC as data enabler: including NFC tags in public information arenas, like museums, bus stops, airports, city centers, etc. Users could use these instantly to grab information about where they are at: perhaps you’re at an art museum, and you’d like additional resources about the Van Gogh you’re looking at. You could be instantly hooked up to Web resources, audio recordings from notable art enthusiasts, or video presentations from a famous Van Gogh collector about that particular piece of artwork. This could greatly enhance the overall visitor experience, and it’s not just for museums. Checking in at the airport with your carrier, you could instantly find out via NFC what the status of your flight may be, as well as the current weather and local time of your destination. The possibilities are really endless here, and none of this is speculation: most of these NFC uses are already being at least beta-tested in real life.
NFC as a gatekeeper
If you’ve ever been running late and lost a bus pass/subway card/boarding pass, you know that feeling of utter frustration. The technology of NFC could make paper tickets something of the past quite soon with paperless ticketing, something that many smartphones and apps are already taking advantage of. The Ultrabook could make this whole process even smoother since it is light enough and mobile enough to go with you wherever you go; for example, say you are at the airport and need to upgrade. You could use your Ultrabook not only as a payment center, but also as a ticketing device that gets you where you need to go. Apps that take advantage of this particular use of NFC will find an eager market.
How about those ID cards many of us carry around our necks on lanyards for work? Wouldn’t it be nice to use your phone, tablet, or Ultrabook as an easy access point? This would work for anywhere that requires some kind of digital identification – think of a hotel, or a gym, or parking garage. The idea here is to get away from the multiple ID forms and conglomerate them in one convenient hub – and NFC has the technology potential to do that.
The same process is true for those loyalty cards that seem to be so prevalent at every grocery store these days. How many of these do you have rattling around in your wallet and purse? Unfortunately, most stores who offer these cards have structured their discounts, coupons, and savings around actually using them for each purchase, so if you want to take advantage of current sales, there’s really no getting around it. However, with NFC, it’s certainly possible to store all of these cards in one place on your smartphone, tablet, Ultrabook, or other device, connecting to them as needed at checkout, which would solve the problem of all that extra plastic in one fell swoop.
Speaking of coupons, NFC is a perfect solution for picking up digital copies of flyers, brochures, coupons, promotional offers, and vouchers, with no paper trail or plastic needed. Plus, these offers could potentially be more personalized to your shopping habits if paired with the aforementioned loyalty cards.
NFC as a data retriever
We probably all realize at this point that newspapers – traditional news – are going the way of the dinosaur. It’s digital for many people at this point, especially with the advent of e-readers both as standalone devices and as apps on PCs, tablets, and netbooks. NFC makes it possible for users to pick up digital copies of newspapers as well as personalized promotional coupons. For example, perhaps you’re browsing in your favorite bookstore, and you see a book you know would be cheaper online (as many of them inevitably are). Instead of taking the time to browse through online retailers, an Ultrabook app that recognizes the ISBN and instantly brings back a range of prices would be ideal.
And what about NFC for real-time information retrieval? For instance, say you’re at a conference, and you’re really enjoying the talks that the speakers are giving. In addition to notes that you’re taking on your Ultrabook, you could also use NFC to instantly tap and download slides, videos, presentations, and whatever else the speaker decides to provide you with.
NFC for personal information
There are different schools of thought on how much personalized information is safe to share via NFC; personally, I’m definitely on the side that says “as little as possible”. But wouldn’t it be nice to have all your stored networking information (name, email, phone, business card, resume, past jobs, LinkedIn profile, portfolio of work, articles, etc.) in one convenient hub that could be instantly ported over via NFC to someone you’re talking to? You could have different levels of shareability on this as well: perhaps one level for networking contacts, one level for friends, one level for family, and so on. Instead of doing the business card dance with promises to email more later, you could just use an app on your NFC-enabled Ultrabook to instantly transfer information.
This could work for medical records as well, although of course different security protocols would necessarily need to be used. Your doctor could transfer your medical records to a central, secure location via NFC. Then, every time you visit the medical offices, labs, hospital, outpatient services, therapy, and pharmacy, you could continue to make that paper trail as complete as possible for your own records (who hasn’t lost a crucial medical receipt that they were then unable to get reimbursed for, right?). Ultrabooks would be especially convenient for this purpose, since they offer AOAC (Always On Always Connected) and could potentially update information in the background while you’re otherwise engaged.
NFC in gaming
The instantaneous nature of NFC seems to be tailor-made for gaming, and it’s exciting to dream a little about what we’re going to see in this space in the next few years, especially with touch-based Windows 8 and Ultrabook apps.
Imagine NFC as part of geo-caching, a popular pastime that is basically a gigantic, worldwide scavenger hunt using localized GPS to find hidden treasures. Using NFC, players could unlock hidden messages, find out where players have already been (or where they are going), download maps for the next goal, and more. Any MMPORG game could include NFC as part of its regular game play; for example, Assassin’s Creed players could use NFC to unlock game rewards when the user is located in a real-life Assassin’s Creed historical location.
Nintendo’s new Wii U will have NFC-enabled controllers:
What's most intriguing to us, as relentless future-looking types, is the addition of near-field communication, or NFC, to the Wii U controller. NFC has been basically underused in gaming outside of Japan and South Korea (as, actually, it's been underused in regular life), with one major exception: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure the newly-named best-selling game of 2012. Skylanders gets most of its cachet from NFC equipped action figures--take your action figure to your friend's house, pop it in the game's action-figure set, and all of a sudden, your saved game and player appear on the screen. Nintendo didn't explain in detail what they intend to do with the new tech, but there are definitely some interesting possibilities.
The sky is the limit for what NFC could do for gaming, although we’re still in early stages yet. Nokia put out a beta testing for NFC-enabled game play in the last twelve months that included playing with real world objects:
- Nokia World Flags. This is a matching game with a twist -- instead of flipping cards, wave your phone over physical NFC cards to magically reveal hidden flags. Almost 200 flags to match and learn.
- Nokia Shakespeare Shuffle. Wave your phone over different NFC tags to magically hear parts of famous quotes from Shakespeare. Rearrange and tap them in the right order to complete the quotes before time runs out!
- Nokia Nursery Rhyme Shuffle. This is a kid’s version of Shakespeare Shuffle, using nursery rhymes from Mother Goose, together with beautiful artwork from the early 1900’s. It is also great as a cooperative game between kids or between kids and their parents.
Now, granted, none of these games sound particularly exciting, but this was more of a test to see how NFC would work with real people playing real games. The possibilities from this initial testing bring up a whole range of potential new gaming developments that savvy developers will be able to take advantage of with their apps, especially for next-generation Ultrabooks.
NFC – just getting started
As you can see from the developments detailed in this article, we’re just really at the beginning of what can be done with NFC. From data retrieval to gaming to identity cards, there is a vast array of possibilities for NFC – and Ultrabook developers will especially be ahead of the curve since next-generation Ultrabooks will have NFC already enabled. What are some of the uses that you foresee NFC being used for? Are you already thinking of an app that could utilize this exciting technology? Share with us your ideas and crystal ball forecasts in the comments section below.