Despite my usually cautious nature, I started to get excited about NFC again at the start of this year. Given all the excitement and strong pronouncements being put forward by a wide range of tier 1 companies it was difficult not to. However, as we near the halfway point in the year I find myself feeling a bit let down.
I've not seen any new NFC-enabled handsets come out since before MWC and Nokia, who had made much about how NFC was a growing part of its Symbian portfolio, has gone backwards in this respect. Despite not being based upon any secure applications, such aspayments,its latest devices have not included any NFC capability. And it remains to be seen if it will be added to its firrst round of WP7 products expected at the end of the year.
Last week Orange UK announced the launch of its new QuickTap contatcless mobile payment service. In partnership with Barclaycard, it employs the SWP, SIM-based NFC implementation and so it's using the latest version of NFC. But it only has one handset in support, a quite-good-but-nothing-special new version of the Samsung Tocco Lite - hardly cutting edge. And with only one handset it hardly proffers mass market appeal.
To make things worse, the Samsung Galaxy SII, which is advanced as any other device out there right now and would have been the flagship device to launch such a service with, has launched in Europe minus its NFC functionality! This, I can only put down to supply issues or the fact that the MNOs didn't push hard enough to get it from the start.
The rest of the recent announcements have been vague or non-commital. HTC has said it will have a NFC smartphone "by this time next year", O2 said it will launch its UK contactless mobile service in the second half of the year - but surely it will need handsets to do this? NXP has gone as far as to say it is working with Microsoft - but in what context?
I am still a fan of NFC and believe that it has great potential in a very long tail of applications. MNOs, if smart, can put themselves in the driving seat but given their lack of activity and the very narrow focus on payments, I do worry. There is a lot of talk but little action or delivery and if not careful, they will lose control as other companies push ahead on their own.
The only brightspot so far is RIM. It said it would go with NFC and it is in the two new versions of its Blackberry Bold, due out in the next month or so. I am unclear at this stage which variant of NFC it is - but it is there and that is the main thing. It will also feature in the late summer/autumn products scheduled too. With it's strong penetration into the enterprise sector it will be interesting to see how this is positioned and used. Similarly, will anyone look at developing this to serve the loyal teen Messenger base? NTT DoCoMo is building this into its Twitter application, will Blackberry (or its application partners) do the same?
So at least one company is moving ahead with its promises in this area - will anyone else follow?