Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thoughts on NFC and the iPhone

Appleinsider reported a few days ago that Apple has decided not to include NFC - Near Field Communication - in the iPhone 5. I've always been dubious of NFC because of security reasons. I've never understood why people feel that it's acceptable to put some of their most sensitive information - their financial information linked to their bank account - on a credit card or key fab that can be read simply by being in proximity to it. And I wondered why the heck Apple would choose to do such a thing in the iPhone.

Lots of companies are using NFC for payments. But what if that's not what Apple was intending it for?

But while I was listening to an older episode of my new favorite podcast, Hypercritical with John Siracusa I realized what Apple might be trying to do with NFS. The conversation in the episode I was listening to revolved around input and out put and the size of the dock connector. Siracusa mentioned that the iPod dock connector is larger than the size of the shuffle, forcing Apple to use the headphone jack as a sync, and that the thinness of the iPod Touch was approaching the width of the dock connector itself.

But what if what Apple was trying to do was to remove the dock connector altogether?

One thing people - myself included - have been wanting ever since the original iPhone debuted in 2007 was a way to wirelessly sync the content. What if Apple is looking into ways to do just that? What is there is some sort of a NFC chip on steroids that Apple has been playing with that has a fast enough data throughput that it can sync wirelessly via Bluetooth. Now, granted, it won't be as fast as USB. But Apple is known for its tradeoffs, isn't it? And how would you like to never have to plug in your phone or iPod ever again? I'd like it a lot. And I'd especially like that I wouldn't have to remind my wife to sync her phone from time to time. She would just put it down on the desk near her computer to sync it.

An interesting note to this effect can be found on the NFC News blog:
Electronic News: Let's go back to the range. How will a short range be a benefit to the consumer electronics world?
Duverne: NFC can be seen as a connectivity technology that is very short range. If you compare it to Bluetooth, for example, NFC is just a few centimeters, less than 10. The thing about it in terms of consumer electronics applications is, because it is very short range, you can make applications very intuitive. With Bluetooth, when you carry out a Bluetooth transaction, you need to go through many steps and identify which device talks to which device. Because NFC is very short range, it is enabled by a very intuitive pairing of devices. In the consumer electronics world, that is very interesting and we see a number of applications in that space. For using NFC, actually, in combination with other wireless technologies.

Electronic News: In combination with Bluetooth?
Duverne: NFC in combination with Bluetooth for initiating a connection via NFC, then doing the transition of data with Bluetooth, which has a longer range. The way it would work, for example, is you have a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone and you want to download pictures from your PC or TV set, you bring the two devices next to each other for initiation of the [NFC] link, then you can take the two devices away and the download of the pictures will be carried out by Bluetooth.

But if the iPhone doesn't plug in, how will you charge it?

Great question, but the tech already exists. It's called inductive charging. I used to have a shaver that could be charged just by placing it into a little cradle. It allowed the shaver to be waterproof and I didn't have to plug it in every day, avoiding wear and tear on connectors. You see inductive charging technology on display in the "charge mats" that are appearing in stores. And in the example mentioned above, my wife could charge her iPhone by placing it directly on her MacBook.

But, sadly, most people who have iPhones use a PC and not a Mac. And even those of us with Macs don't have the newest Mac. So how do people with PCs and older Macs use the technology? I suspect that Apple would need to make available its own flavor of charge pad, which connects via USB to their computer. But such a charge pad would need to come with a new iPhone, not come as a separate purchase, which would drive up the cost of the phone. And if the iPhone comes with its own charge pad, what's the use of building the technology into a MacBook, which would also add expense? I suspect that such dilemmas are why Apple reportedly has opted to wait on NFS.

So it may not be ready yet, but I'd bet that Apple is working on imbedding wireless technologies to sync and inductive charging technology to charge a device with the intent of making the iPhone, iPod and iPad ridiculously thin and light. Wireless is the future, and that means wireless everything.

If anyone can do it, it's Apple.

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