Last updated: NFC, QR, and the future beyond mobile transactions

NFC, QR, and the future beyond mobile transactions


Listen to article

Download audio as MP3

As mobile devices proliferate into every nook and cranny of our lives, I still maintain that we’re barely scratching the surface of mobile capabilities as we enter 2013. The possibilities for mobile technology are enormous and I expect to see several innovations come to life in the US over the next several years.

Some of these innovations are already in use today, but are not widely adopted. Others are widely adopted in Europe and/or Asia while the US lags for various reasons. Most of the reasons are based on irrational fear or competitive positioning by companies trying to exclude technologies from gaining acceptance in the marketplace.

What is NFC: Near Field Communications defined

Near Field Communications (NFC) is a low-wattage data transmission technology that works when devices are in close proximity. It’s perfect for securely sending small amounts of data between two devices. The transmission rate is below .5Mbps and it has less range than its parent, RFID. But NFC also avoids the “pairing” step of its faster cousin, Bluetooth.

For applications that require a faster data transfer speed, NFC can initiate a faster non-NFC connection between two devices to share large files such as audio and video.NFC is currently more popular in Europe, and growing with over 40% of mobile transactions predicted to occur via NFC by 2015.

In China, 169 million people use NFC technology when purchasing goods and services, such as transit rides. Device manufacturers (such as Samsung) have released technologies such as TecTiles which, along with a GooglePlay app, lets users create NFC tags to perform a variety of automated actions. One of my favorite examples is a TecTile that automatically puts a phone into “driving” mode when it’s near a tag in the vehicle. This tag could be programmed to activate a navigation app, turn on voice commands, launch Bluetooth for in-car pairing and – best of all – disable texting.

TecTiles can be placed on just about any surface and can perform myriad actions:

  • Place a tag on a business card to easily share your contact information with another device.
  • Place a tag on a desk at work to have calls automatically transferred from your mobile to office phone.
  • Tag a room to reset your Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat to your preferences when you enter a room.

Best of all, these tags can be reprogrammed at will.

Some question why we need NFC when we already have QR code technology. And that’s a good question. I regularly use an app called LevelUp that allows me to pay with my mobile device in a certain diner near my home. It’s fast and convenient – and proprietary. To me, it’s also proof that mobile payments are a great idea and that we’ll eventually migrate to a more standardized system based on a common, reliable and secure technology.

So why does the US lag this advance in technology? Two reasons:

  1. Manufacturer myopia
  2. Technophobia

Manufacturer myopia

Come on, Apple. Passbook (as it is today) will never compete with technologies like this in the long run. It’s a passive technology — perhaps PassiveBook would have been a better name. Don’t get me wrong, I use passbook for several things. But it’s a one-way data relationship.

A recent survey conducted by Charles Tran found that 68% of Smartphone owners answered, “no” when asked if they would you like to replace the cash they carry with a mobile wallet. Of course most people aren’t going to run towards such a drastic change.

Remember, Steve Jobs was famous for downplaying consumer research, saying that Apple should design products people don’t even know they want yet. So instead of forcing users toward an Apple app, they should leverage new technology and make it easy for iOS platform developers to develop for it. I sincerely hope Apple isn’t taking the “we’re high” road like they did with Apple Maps.


Here’s where the fear factor comes in. I commented to a friend last week that more quick-service restaurants should use LevelUp or similar technology while waiting for NFC to proliferate. They responded, “But what if you lose your phone? Someone could run up charges.” When I reminded them that the same problem exists with a credit card and cash, they said, “Wow, I never thought of it that way.”

I understand that technology can be daunting, and that there are many issues with some technologies that can create horrendous data breaches and lead to identity theft. Identity theft can also happen when a credit card is handed to a waiter at a restaurant.

But ask yourself, what’s easier? Trying to remember the sensitive information in your wallet that was stolen? Or deactivating your phone from your computer, your tablet or by calling your mobile provider?

This same sort of fear, uncertainty and doubt crowded the minds of would-be e-commerce shoppers in the early days of the internet.

So I understand that it will take time to educate consumers on the relative safety of technologies like NFC. We should also look to Europe as they have very stringent privacy directives that would make any sensible company cringe at releasing something on an iffy technology. NFC passes the test there and it should here, too.

So, by 2015, we should see additional adoption of NFC by device manufacturers. We’ll then start seeing retailers and service businesses (such as e mass transit, movie theaters, theme parks, and others) implementing the necessary hardware on their side to make this happen.

What do I think we’ll see in the next few years? For starters, either NFC or an equivalent technology will begin to gain de-facto acceptance for the bidirectional transfer of data between devices within close proximity. Not only will this enable simple transactions such as payments, but it will also let an individual’s device contain their life preferences and have the environment around them. There’s a tremendous range of innovation possible when NFC transcends not only the acceptance barrier, but perhaps more importantly, the “intended use” barrier. Financial transactions are the tip of the iceberg, and there’s so much below the waterline that the possibilities are endless.

Modern business, meet revenue:
– End-to-end connected data
– Engage quickly with a great CX
– Sell anytime, anywhere

Get going TODAY.

Share this article


Search by Topic beginning with