I was thinking this morning about how many NFC (new) handsets I might expect to see in at Mobile World Congress inBarcelona at the end of the month. Truth be told, I don't have very high expectations. I hope that I am wrong but given the fact thatprogress has been slow over the past 12 months I amsitting firmly in the cautious/conservative camp.
So how many new NFC handsets might there be? Well, speaking with NXP earlier this year I was pleased to hear that they are working on near enough 100 devices (handsets, smartphones, and tablets amongst others), of which 60-70% are Android-based; no surprise given Android ICS incorporating support for NFC. Couple this with the high profile design wins from Inside Secure and things look promising, especially when you consider the other IC suppliers also active.
However, in reality, I would be surprised if there were more than 10 new handset models with NFC in Barcelona. This is largely in part to the fact that it is early in the year still, but also down to the OEMs customers - the MNOs. At this time I still generally see MNOs working on business plans, looking for ROI on seeding the market with NFC-enabled handsets - and they still cannot find a business model to appeal to their financial partners for payment services.
As a result, the MNOs are yet not ordering NFC devices andthe OEMs will likely continue to hold back from widely offering it as a feature of their handsets. Yes, they will work with NXP and Inside Secure to ensure that their designs are ready but that does not mean that they will then include NFC within the commercial design (especially if no-one is requesting it or prepared to pay for it).
I am not all doom and gloom though. I see good signs in the market, especially when you remember that NFC is not just payments. It can be used for so much more, as an enabler of and enhancement to new services. "Making applications interactive" is one way that I look at it. And I believe that news such as that annoucned by Texas Instruments this week is such a good sign. It is launching two new combo ICs featuring NFC alongside Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS/GNSS and FM connectivity.
Until now, TI had held back from the mobile market, instead focusing its NFC developments on other sectors, such as medical, consumer and automotive. Its move with the new combo chips is a boost for the nascent NFC market and I think that by incorporating NFC with other technologies, the barrier of someone paying for an additional (standalone) NFC controller is removed. That si to say, OEMs are not so worried about NFC impacting their margins and MNOs see less added cost for NFC handsets.
As I said in this blog's title: I look forward to the day when I no longer talk about NFC handsets. Instead, I look forward to the day when it is simply there, as a ubiquitous feature (at least in all smartphones).I won't be talking about it because it will be as pervasive as Bluetooth, FM receivers, GPS and WiFi. And perhaps it will be; with developments like TI's combo connecitivty IC there is no reason why it won't be. There's obviously some way to go still and Idon't think that we will beat that point at next year's MWC -but it might be the year after that....