Speaking with the handset companies in Barcelona at MWC last week was a rather mixed bag from an NFC perspective. Some companies, notably LG, Nokia, RIM and the newly rebranded Sony were very much to the fore in demonstrating and discussing their smartphones' new contactless capabilities.
The demo from Nokia as to how a number of its new devices (including the 41MP 808 PureView) can tap to pair with speakers, open up new gaming levels, etc. demonstrated clearly and simply how NFC can - and probably will - change how we use our phones to interact with our physical surroundings.
The same can be said for Sony which is investing in Xperia-branded NFC tags which can be used with their leading handsets to change UI settings and personal preferences, e.g. in-car, at the office, at night, etc., or to access specific information and updates, e.g weather, news, travel, multimedia content, etc.
Again this highlights how NFC will change the manner in which we use our mobile devices, something that will increase over time as NFC becomes more established and ubiquitous in devices.
We're not there yet though. Myself, I counted more than 10 but less than 20 new handsets on show at the event - this excludes those already announced last year, such as RIM's flagship Bold smartphones. Some manufacturers and developers continue to appear to be behind the curve. Speaking to Motorola they had no NFC devices on display, and tablets in general don't seem to have made the leap yet - but this is no real surprise because they lack the portability of a smartphone and therefore the infrastructure and app's targeting tablets has not yet arrived.
However, on the plus side, I was pleased - and a little surprised - to see a small but growing number of low-cost NFC handstes/smartphones. One in particular which stood out was DMD Mobile's NFC Communicator, a sub-$100 Android smartphone targeting the very large pre-paid market base in Malaysia, Indonesia and local markets. Other manufacturers are looking at the $50 or less mark for NFC handsets. What will be interesting is, whilst there is a lot of deliberation still on-going in more mature markets, if it will be the emerging markets that will take the lead on NFC. They have innovated and run with mobile money over the past few years and given these developments they could now do the same with NFC. I know that I will be watching closely to see what happens once the handsets get out and developers see what they can do with NFC as an enabling platform for new services and use-cases.